'Massive' afforestation project will see area behind Freeport transformed into 8,000-tree park

The area in Benghajsa was previously earmarked for a Freeport extension but will now be made into a 30,000 sq.m park

The government said it will be embarking on a new 30,000 sq.m park project which will be home to 8,000 trees. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
The government said it will be embarking on a new 30,000 sq.m park project which will be home to 8,000 trees. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

An undeveloped area behind the Freeport in Birzebbugia is set to be transformed into a 30,000 sq.m park with 8,000 trees.

The afforestation project will cost €400,000, and will see the site in Benghajsa, which was previously earmarked for an extension of the Freeport, turned into an area which can be used for picnics, camping and tourism purposes

The project was announced on Tuesday by Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Environment Minister Jose Herrera. The news comes days after the Prime Minister said that the creation of the largest open space in Malta in a generation was being planned. Joseph Muscat had said the government had various options regarding what to do with the site, but had decided to turn it into a park.

Mizzi said that the project was possible after an application to extend the Freeport inland was withdrawn. He said the project will be split into three phases: the afforestation itself, the creation of a camping site, and the converting of an underground bunker in the area into a tourist attraction.

"The previous administration had earmarked this land for an extension of the Freeport terminals, effectively turning it into a container port," MIzzi said, "But this government decided that the Freeport should be extended outwards, in the direction of the sea, not inwards, where people live.”

Herrera, calling the project one of the most massive in recent years, said the management of the 8,000 endemic trees which will be planted will be entrusted to a yet unnamed NGO.

Regarding the extension of the Freeport, he acknowledged that its expansion was necessary to enhance its contribution to the economy, but he insisted that any expansion should be outwards, including possibly through the use of land reclamation.

The Freeport itself, he noted, was mostly built on reclaimed land.

"33% of Malta is built up, but 67% isn't," Herrera remarked, as he spoke of the challenges his ministry encountered when searching for locations where afforested areas could be created.

"A lot of this unbuilt land is either privately owned, or features garigue habitats which cannot be touched," he said, underlining how the land in Benghajsa, however, was suitable for afforestation, which was one of the reasons the government had decided to dedicate the space for this purpose.