The Sunday Times of Malta, 22nd June 2008

The approval of the Mistra Village redevelopment has confirmed many voters’ fears that the much publicised Mepa reform is never really going to happen.

Besides the many other serious issues that plague this project, we shall be facing acute traffic problems at Xemxija for many years to come thanks to this redevelopment.

The developer estimates that there will be 97 truckloads of waste a day for eight months using Xemxija Hill during the excavation phase.

No mention is made of the same 97 empty trucks that will have to get to Mistra Village in the first place. This translates to one truck every two-and-a-half-minutes that is going to be added to the already heavy traffic.

The construction phase will follow the excavation phase. The developer does not estimate how many trucks, cement mixers and other very heavy machinery will be used during this phase, but this is estimated to take up another seven months and there are sure to be many, many trucks again using this same road.

However, according to a developer’s statement, in an apparent contradiction to the above, the Mistra redevelopment is estimated to take 48 months, so there seems to be some discrepancy in the projected timeframes, which only increases the foreboding.

At the end of the construction phase, an additional 2,200 parking spaces will be available to the lucky new residents and they will all use Xemxija Hill, together with the 23,000 vehicles already using this road every day. That’s 25,200 per day or an average of just over 1,000 per hour. The figure is bound to be many times higher at peak times.

In fact the Traffic Impact Statement – part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – found the impact on traffic would be ‘major’, particularly at the roundabout of Xemxija Hill, that traffic problems already existed and the roundabout would be ‘saturated’ once the project was in operation. In other words, the traffic created by the project will render the road practically unusable.

The congestion will start at the Mellieħa roundabout and will carry on as far as the Xemxija roundabout in both directions for three kilometres. This is sheer hell, and we are going to have four years or more of large-scale disruption to traffic that will have, in Mepa-speak, a major negative impact on local commercial activity, tourism and the general public well-being.

On decision day at Mepa, a presentation by Mepa staff went into every detail of the EIA prepared by the developer’s consultants. Most of the two-hour presentation was spent promoting the magnanimity of the developer in reducing the height of the tower from 23 floors to 11, while minimising the negative impact of dust and noise on the residents and showing distorted misleading photo montages.

The EIA also pointed out that the project will have a major negative visual impact on views from all around, particularly from Mistra Bay and that the Traffic Impact Statement found that the project would create unsustainable traffic congestion for four years.

The Mepa board did not even touch on, let alone discuss, the traffic. Nor did it discuss the pollution or the major negative visual impact. The whole issue was decided in five minutes flat and the permit granted. How could a responsible board gloss over some very serious objections to a project by simply ignoring them?

Has the Prime Minister already taken Mepa under his wing, or do we need to wait longer before the reforms are implemented? And if so, why were such monstrous decisions not postponed until the reforms are put in place?