Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri has not yet shared the promised modifications to plans for a controversial road widening project in Marsalforn with NGOs, despite promises to consult with them on improvements to the original 2019 designs, comments from Din L-Art Ħelwa president Alex Torpiano confirm.
The €9 million road-widening project for the seldom-congested stretch of road between Marsalforn and Victoria will see around 300 mature indigenous trees and two football pitches’ worth of arable land taken up.
On Thursday, The Shift reported on the Planning Authority’s ‘independent’ Environment and Planning Review Tribunal’s (EPRT) dismissal of an appeal against the project by NGO Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), paving the way for the road’s construction.
The Gozo Ministry has already awarded the €9 million tender to Prax Ltd – a company owned by Nadur developer Joseph Portelli and his associates Daniel Refalo and Mark Agius.
Answering questions from The Shift, Torpiano said that while Minister Camilleri had confirmed with DLĦ that the agreed-upon improvements would be implemented, “we have not yet seen the amended plans”.
The improvements which Camilleri promised to implement included proposals by DLĦ road alignments that allowed for better preservation of trees, with Torpiano saying this was suggested “particularly to protect the rural character of the road”.
“I can confirm that DLĦ did have discussions with the Ministry a couple of years ago”, he said, “we were promised [the suggestions] would be taken on board.”
In September 2021 – when the project had already seen stiff objections from NGOs, farmers and citizens – Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri met with Din l-Art Ħelwa, going public with his promise to revise the project.
A visit to the Planning Authority’s website confirms the plans for the project (PA/3000/19) were last submitted in July 2021, remaining unchanged since the minister’s September 2021 pledge.
Planning application was ‘dangerous and dishonest’
Given the EPRT’s decision to dismiss the FAA’s appeal, the project can now proceed as originally planned.
In comments to The Shift following the appeal’s dismissal, FAA co-founder Astrid Vella said that “the application to turn the scenic road through the beautiful valley between Victoria and Marsalforn into a motorway, was both dangerous and dishonest.”
Vella noted that while the Ministry for Gozo claimed the project would reduce congestion and improve safety, “the ministry’s own report admitted that there were only occasional jams”, with the police “confirming this road has no record of serious accidents”.
“FAA condemns the fact that ERA is complicit in this abusive project, as its report fails to mention some 38 protected, indigenous trees to be destroyed by the project,” she said.
The ERA report called for compensatory plantings to ‘replace’ the destroyed trees, a practice which Vella says is ineffective given the saplings take years of care and maintenance to grow into the mature trees they are meant to replace.
“The fact that the EPRT did not rescind the permit on the grounds of the false information provided speaks volumes about the lack of impartiality of the EPRT, which is complicit in the ruination of our islands through the corruption of Malta’s spacial planning system which is undermining our quality of life,” she concluded.
The EPRT is chaired by Joseph Borg, who was asked to take unpaid leave from his Planning Authority position while he chaired the ‘independent’ tribunal reviewing complaints against the same authority.
Road will become ‘unsafe only once this widening is done’
Bicycle use advocacy group Rota issued a report on Friday similarly condemning the project, which they labelled an “atrocity”, arguing the bicycle lane in the proposed plans is poorly designed.
In a press release accompanying the report, the group said they disagree with the road in its current form being labelled “unsafe for non-motorised transportation,” arguing that “While it is true that it needs a good resurface, and adequate lighting, it will become mostly unsafe only once this widening is done.”
They said “The straighter design will invite for more speed and create unnecessary conflict, with most bicycle users likely to simply ignore the [planned cycle lane] due to its futility, inefficiency and wrong sense of safety involved in jolting in and out of the road several times in one stretch of road.”
Rota called for road dieting instead of widening, an established planning practice where road width limitations influence drivers to drive slower and more carefully and insisted on keeping the mature trees in place.
“Gozo’s extremely short distances give it a huge potential to become a cycling island,” citing the Mġarr harbour road bicycle lane whose plans have been flagged as bad practice, they said “Let’s not repeat the same mistakes over again.”