Updated | Qormi farmers and residents raise red alert over Mriehel flyover

Farmers joined by Moviment Graffitti over Infrastructure Malta plans to build a flyover and take swathes of land and fields in the surrounding areas

Farmer Carmel Bonello addressing the press conference this morning
Farmer Carmel Bonello addressing the press conference this morning

Moviment Graffitti has called on Malta’s farming community and dispossessed landowners to unite against land grabs by Infrastructure Malta.

Farmers and residents of Qormi today revealed plans by Infrastructure Malta, which they said had been kept under wraps, to take swathes of land and fields in order to build a flyover.

A family of Mriehel farmers this morning promised to fight a takeover of their once ODZ land to the bitter end, after being told by Infrastructure Malta head Frederick Azzopardi that they had “enjoyed it long enough”.

Farmer Carmel Bonello addressed a press conference, assisted by Moviment Graffitti, opposing the plans to widen the bypass into a green area. He described the planned expansion as “pointless” because it would simply create a bottleneck when the proposed new third lane converged back into one lane further down the road.

Landowner Anna Louise Scerri Montalto described the area as “one of the last lungs of Qormi” and said the plans’ impact would be terrible. The nearby 400 year-old Torri ta Pinto, which was built on clay, would probably be destroyed by the vibrations of the roadworks and the increased car traffic. She also said that more congestion would result from the project.

Moviment Graffitti joined farmers in Mriehel to raise concern about the impending road project
Moviment Graffitti joined farmers in Mriehel to raise concern about the impending road project

Bonello’s daughter, Marianna Calleja, told journalists that her family’s land was “raped and horribly managed” in 1991 for the building of the nearby industrial complex and bypass, earmarked as the border with the land which was supposed to be Outside Development Zone (ODZ). Her grandmother would tell her stories of how her grandfather was threatened with imprisonment in 1991 if he caused problems to the construction of the bypass.

The land was arable and the EU had announced measures to help farmers, which assistance had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. “The takeover is pointless.”

But when the family had gone to Frederick Azzopardi, asking him to spare their land, he had replied by telling them that they had enjoyed it long enough (“gawdejtu bizzejjed”), she said. Accusing Infrastructure Malta of stealing the land from them, she asked whether Azzopardi had “enjoyed enough from what he had already taken” for other projects such as Central Link.

Wayne Flask, from Moviment Graffitti, said that they were angry at the theft of arable land from farmers, residents “and us who consume the fruit of this land.” He decried the arrogance of Infrastructure Malta and accused Azzopardi of thinking that he “could do whatever he wanted as long as he does so in a web of lies and deceit.”

The proposed road, whose plans are currently unavailable on the PA’s mapserver, will cut through agricultural land larger than three football pitches in an ODZ area. "It will also spell the end of one of the last green lungs in Qormi, already strangled by traffic agglomerations that have further served to congest the area and reduce the air quality," said Graffitti in a statement.

In addition, the flyover will mean the destruction of a huge water reservoir and the uprooting of a number of protected olive and pomegranate trees, some of which are hundreds of years old.

"Farmers have expressed their dismay at the way Infrastructure Malta simply decided, without notification, to take their lands, as the project is veiled in a shroud of secrecy that has now become the roads’ agency standard way of operating. They are also worried about the way these works are carried out, citing experiences from other farmers in the island who have faced similar situations.

"Residents are dismayed at the fact that the flyover will also destroy the new footbridge connecting Imriehel to Qormi, in a further blow to pedestrian accessibility. The footbridge, proposed by then-MP Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, was inaugurated less than two years ago with the aim of reducing fatal accidents in the busy Imriehel Bypass. Moreover, residents have voiced their concerns about the integrity of a historical watchtower, built during Grandmaster Pinto’s rule."

Cultivated land in Mriehel will be taken over by the project
Cultivated land in Mriehel will be taken over by the project

“We question what is the logic behind this project,” the residents said in a statement. “There is nothing to be gained in terms of traffic flow since this flyover will create a new bottleneck closer to the roundabout leading to Qormi, and we suspect that this project is being carried out to service the commercial developments in Imriehel.”

Moviment Graffitti criticised Infrastructure Malta’s behaviour, branding it as “an arrogant and blatant show of bullying.” The activist group criticised Infrastructure Malta's CEO for “engineering a systematic campaign against farmers, driving them out of their lands to appease various developers and commercial interests, whilst resorting to threats and lies, typical of somebody who has things to hide."

Flask appealed to Malta’s farmers and residents in similar situations to unite against the “army of bulldozers” and not to stand for threats to their quality of life.

Infrastructure Malta reacts

In a statement this afternoon, infrastructure Malta said the project was a planned safety upgrade which was still in its initial design stage.

“The agency clarifies that this junction safety upgrade in the Mriehel Bypass is still in its initial planning stages and that there was no attempt to implement it by stealth, as alleged during Saturday’s press conference. In fact, the tenants who addressed the press conference found out about this proposed upgrade after they were contacted by Infrastructure Malta to launch initial stakeholder consultations required to finalise the project designs with the least possible adverse impacts in the area.

“The landowners who addressed the press conference were invited to two meetings with Infrastructure Malta as part of this planning process and they were given a copy of the preliminary plans. Once the project plans are discussed with all stakeholders, including the applicable environmental and planning authorities, the final plans that will be put forward for the Planning Authority’s decision will also be made available to the public for consultation as per applicable procedure for all new developments.

The safety upgrade involved the construction of a flyover at the junction between the Mriehel Bypass and in-Negozju Street, which Infrastructure Malta described as an accident black spot. Additional land was also required for a new cycle lane and footpath along the same Bypass, which does not currently have any facilities for alternative modes of travel, it said.

“The safety upgrade had been specified in the specified in the National Transport Master Plan Malta 2025, which ranks it as the eighth most important arterial road upgrade required to ensure the safety and efficiency of the TEN-T (Trans-European Transport Network - Core and Comprehensive) in Malta, as required by Regulation (EU) 1315/2013.”

The road’s junction safety is also highlighted as a principal point of concern in the 2006 Central Malta Local Plan. The Plan identifies safety upgrades to the Mriehel Bypass as one of the area’s policy priorities.