Zebbug Lidl supermarket traffic studies shot down by Transport Malta

Transport Malta says Traffic Impact Assessment claiming 30% reduction in traffic due to Central Link road project not based on proper scientific modelling

The Planning Authority board has postponed a decision on a Lidl supermarket in Haz-Zebbug because the developer’s claim that the Central Link project will reduce traffic by 30% is based on an assumption, not scientific modelling.

Despite objections from the Environment and Resources Authority over the take-up of some 8,500 square metres of land outside the development zones for the supermarket’s car park, the PA’s case officer still recommended the project for approval.

PA chairman Vince Cassar said the board could not decide in the absence of scientific studies, but he also called for a reduction in the size of the parking site.

Despite reducing the massing of the supermarket, the car park will be intruding further into the ‘area of containment’ where the present factory site is located, outside development zones.

The supermarket is being proposed on the site of the SMW Cortis building on Mdina road, having first obtained a permit for an extension in 2014 which was never carried out. This permit was used as a justification for the present permit, which was described as a visual improvement by project architect Kurt Camilleri Burlò, on the more massive building approved six years ago.

But it was Desmond Muscat from Transport Malta who dropped a bombshell when he disputed a Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) in which the developers claimed the Central Link project would reduce traffic in the area by 30%, an observation not based on scientific assessment of traffic flows.

The project’s traffic consultant insisted that the Central Link project’s drawings clearly showed a reduction of traffic from Attard to Zebbug, and that the traffic capacity of the northbound road has also increased. Camilleri Burlò pointed out the clearance for the project that had been issued by Transport Malta itself in October 2019.

But even then, TM had expressed concern on the lack of a scientific justification for the 30% traffic reduction claim. Planning directorate official Silvio Farrugia confirmed that although the 30% claim was “reasonable”, he understood the need for scientific modelling. 

Zebbug mayor Malcolm Paul Galea expressed his concern on traffic impact, particularly on the lack of accessibility and safety risks for bus commuters. He proposed a subway to improve safety.

“How on earth is it possible that a crucial study on which this decision should be based is not even based on a scientific and evidence based study?”, Zebbug resident and Moviment Graffitti activist Christine Cassar asked, who although recognised the project’s visual improvement, emphasised the fact that more ODZ land will be taken up. “Malta has a record number of Lidl supermarkets per square metre… most of them like the ones in Luqa, Safi and Gozo were all built on ODZ land. ODZ is ODZ, otherwise we would be making a mockery of policies restricting development to the development zone.”

The supermarket chain operates three megastores within a four-mile radius, with supermarkets in Luqa, Qormi and Santa Venera.

PA board members Martin Camilleri and Sean Mangion also expressed concern on sacrificing more ODZ land for the car park, noting that the project included an over-provision of parking, and should be constructed underground.

ERA chairman Victor Axiak, while congratulating the developer for improvements made over the original designs, insisted on the rehabilitation of the ODZ land and the development of an underground car park.

The ERA had firmly requested that all development, including the parking area, should be entirely confined within the boundaries of the area of containment, a designation for land where commercial development can be located outside the development zone.

Zebbug independent councillor Steve Zammit Lupi, who also objected to the take-up of ODZ land, also lamented that while the project catered for 250 cars, plans did not cater for cyclists.

The Lands Authority said works on government-owned land can only take place after the sale of the land is concluded. This part of the site consists of a layby that will form part of the surface car park. In total, the 14,000 sq.m site lies between the Mdina and Attard roads, with main access proposed from Attard Road.


How Central Link will impact traffic to new supermarket

The TIA identifies a high risk of junction failure caused by the traffic induced by the new Lidl in the roundabout between the Mdina-Attard roads, which also attracts school traffic to localities like Mgarr. The new network will limit the direct link to the area from Attard since access to Attard Road will only be available through a left turn for traffic from a westerly direction. It also foresees the Central Link thoroughfare becoming more attractive for car trips between the south-east of the island, and a reduction in traffic along the narrower Mdina road.

Moreover, trips north of the Central Link would either travel towards Rabat and enter Mdina Road from the roundabout near Triq ta’ Cawla, or travel to Mriehel and turn around a new roundabout to come back to the Central Link and turn left to Attard Road. According to the study this would result in a 30% decrease in traffic along the critical junction. But now it turns out that these studies were not based on scientific modelling.

The report says that with the Central Link in place the junction is expected to perform satisfactorily till 2025. The report concludes that although the transport impact of the new supermarket is significant, the new road infrastructure will mitigate both the current congestion on the strategic network and the trips generated by the development. The report also notes an “edge of town supermarket” like the proposed Lidl will necessarily cater for “car-based shopping”.

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