[WATCH] Environment over the economy: Hundreds protest Central Link Project

Hundreds answered 19-year-old student Sasha Vella's call to voice their anger at seeing the environment disregarded

Hundreds of protestors lined the stretch of road between Rabat and Mriehel to protest the uprooting of trees and loss of agricultural land to be caused by the Central Link Project
Hundreds of protestors lined the stretch of road between Rabat and Mriehel to protest the uprooting of trees and loss of agricultural land to be caused by the Central Link Project

Over a thousand people turned up in Attard this morning to protest the recently approved Central Link Project, which will require 459 trees to be uprooted and the loss of a considerable area of agricultural land.

The trees are scattered along the stretch of road between the roundabout at the bottom of Saqqajja hill and the Malta Financial Service Authority headquarters in Mrieħel, and will be removed to make way for two additional lanes, which authorities hope will ease congestion in the area.

Protestors who braved the sun to protest the project and its environmental impact, lined themselves along the busy road, seeking shelter under the shade produced by the trees. Several tied themselves to the many trees along the road in a symbolic gesture.

The project's approval has struck a nerve with Malta's society, with over €20,000 raised in less than 24 hours to mount a legal challenge to the project. 

“Widening roads to reduce congestion is like loosening your belt to tackle obesity,” read one placard held up by some of those present.

“If you really think the economy is more important than the environment trying holding your breath as you count your money,” read another.

The protest is the brainchild of Sasha Vella, a 19-year-old student who set up the Facebook Group ‘For OUR Trees’ following the project’s approval, just under two weeks ago.

The group already has over 10,000 members, showing the growing frustration among members of the public over what many perceive to be the rapid degradation of the country’s natural environment.  

Appeal to politicians to stop killing the environment

In a statement on behalf of the organisers, Vella said she wanted to thank the “over 1000 people who attended”.

“This action was a clear appeal from a group of citizens with a message for our country’s leader’s: stop killing us. Our environment is not frivolous. Our quality of life is dependent on it, and our health is being threatened.

“How long must we stand aside and watch the Maltese countryside being defiled for the greed of the few? We are a group of citizens affiliated with no party. The only thing that unites us is a common hope for a better environment, for a better country that will result in a better life for all those who live on our island,” Vella said.

She said she was humbled to have had the opportunity to unite with people and share her message and “anger at what is happening, in a peaceful manner”.

“That said, we cannot ignore the pitiful attempts that were made by partisan forces to undermine our work. We declare that the environment is truly for everyone and we refuse to stoop down to banality or word-twisting to murky our message of hope,” Vella said.

Infrastructure Ministry statement

In a statement issued on Sunday afternoon, the Infrastructure Ministry reiterated that the project would benefit residents and their families, while “clarifying speculation that doesn’t reflect the reality of the project”.

It insisted that none of the trees lining Saqqajja hill would be removed, insisting that by its end, the project will result in 285 more trees than there currently are.

The ministry said the project would also include 51, 000 sq. m of open spaces and footpaths, and 11,000 sq. m of bicycle lanes.

The ministry claimed that the project would reduce travelling times by 50% and emissions by 66%.

It said these facts had been confirmed by various mayors as well as a majority of people who live in the area, and “who have already understood the importance of the project”.  

The ministry said that traffic in this area is a problem that has been around for many years, and was something that many complained about, including some of those criticizing the project today.

“The government is committed, as it did with the Kappara Junction, and as it is doing with the Marsa Junction, to address congestion and improve connectivity between Rabat and Mrieħel,” it said.

The ministry added that while it understood that there is always going to be opposition to this sort of project, it was obliged to act in the national interest and to improve the quality of life of those living in the central part of the island.