[WATCH] Bulebel farmers' eviction orders now a court matter, Chris Cardona says

Chris Cardona told MaltaToday he had suggested to Environment Minister Jose Herrera to embark on an afforestation project in the area of Wied iz-Zring, but did not seem to think that such a move would hinder agriculture

Chris Cardona does not believe having a natural park in Bulebel would hinder agriculture
Chris Cardona does not believe having a natural park in Bulebel would hinder agriculture
Chris Cardona told MaltaToday he had suggested to Environment Minister Jose Herrera to embark on an afforestation project in the area of Wied iz-Zring, but did not seem to think that such a move would hinder agriculture

Eviction orders against farmers in Bulebel remain in force with Economy Minister Chris Cardona saying he will not comment on the matter because of pending court procedures.

"The government does not interfere with court procedures but we will respect the eventual decision while we will see that the development proposed under the previous administration does not take place," Cardona told MaltaToday.

His ministry had proposed extending the Bulebel industrial estate into adjacent agricultural land that had long been identified as developable for factories. Farmers who till the fields in the area had been evicted from the land.

But after a public outrcy ensued, last month, the Prime Minister said alternatives to the Zejtun agricultural land were being “considered”.

Environment NGO Wirt iz-Zejtun had said that the location of the proposed factory extension included Wied iz-Zring – an Area of Ecological Importance and Site of Scientific Importance. The surrounding land was also identified as a Valley Protection Zone.

In Parliament, Cardona said that the government has taken note of the environmental and historical value, and that the original plan to develop certain areas was scrapped. “In my opinion, I think that the areas should be landscaped and accessible to the public,” he said.

But Cardona's suggestion to turn the area into a natural park was described as "strange" by Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia since it could "drastically disturb" agriculture. Farrugia is not yet convinced of the government's intentions, adding it has so far failed to guarantee that the zone will not be developed.

"The government is being dismissive of the issue," Farrugia said.

However, Cardona told MaltaToday that his suggestion to Environment Minister Jose Herrera to embark on an afforestation project in the area of Wied iz-Zring was not meant to hinder agriculture.

"If there is agriculture which is legal, we do not interfere in this," Cardona said, explaining that the decision not to develop the area was precisely in order not to negatively impact agriculture.

In Parliament, Cardona had said that eviction orders are issued in response to illegalities. "It generally happens when the government owns a property which is in the possession of someone who does not have a legal title."

During an environment parliamentary committee debate (the one which was side-tracked after PD MP Marlene Farrugia called Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri a ‘gbejna’), Herrera insisted that land of any historical value in the Bulebel area would remain untouched – but explained that the government was in a tug-of-war of sorts between requests for factories to be built in the area, and the people who were outraged at the excessive land take-up.

Moreover, the government could not backtrack on the letters of intent it had already sent, Cardona had said, adding that a number of companies were in queue at Malta Enterprise.

Additional reporting by Massimo Costa

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