‘Trees not our responsibility’, PA says in Balzan appeal

PA says NGO concerns on survival of mature trees in Portelli Balzan project not its responsibility

The Planning Authority has absolved itself of any responsibility on the survival of two mature Ficus trees threatened by Joseph Portelli’s 88-unit complex instead of the abandoned Dolphin Centre in Balzan.

In an appeal filed by architect Joanne Spiteri Staines on behalf of NGOs Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien Għall-Ambjent Aħjar, the local council and residents, it was said the existence of the trees was not even considered in plans for the project.

The two large and robust trees stretch from the façade of the Dolphin Centre, across the entire width of Triq il-Kbira and have a diameter of 18m.

The appellants now say the basement of the project will be excavated right up and beyond the pavement line, and this will result in “the destruction of half of the tree’s roots” as well as its most of its branches and 154sq.m of foliage. The objectors fear that the development will ultimately result in the felling of the trees.

But the PA replied that the two trees “are not part of the site covered by the development and are in fact located on a public pavement.” Instead, the PA has called on the objectors to “raise their concern on the trees with the competent authority” while calling on the EPRT to dismiss this argument.

But although the national authority responsible for tree protection is the Environment and Resources Authority and not the PA, it is the permit issued by the PA which is endangering the two iconic trees by approving development above and below the said trees.

The appellants are also challenging the permit because plans for the project failed to refer to the existence of a historical wall and nymphaeum, which formed part of the grounds of the original Villa Birbal – illegally demolished in 1987. Also omitted from plans is the presence of a large well, also part of the gardens of the former Villa Birbal.

But the PA also shot down this argument, saying its decision was taken on the basis of documents it had in hand and that the nymphaeum was not even noted by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage.

The Balzan council and NGOs insist that planning policies restrict heights in the area to four levels, but the PA says this translates to a metric height of 16.3 metres and that adequate measures were taken to step down the development from the Urban Conservation Area.