Way back in 2014, the Victoria Local Council wanted to uproot 14 ficus nitida trees growing in Pjazza Indipendenza, Victoria.

Subsequently, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority sent a letter dated 2 October, 2014 instructing the council that the trees were protected and the proposed uprooting was thus deemed unacceptable. 

In reaction, the council lodged an appeal against the letter before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, stating that the “ficus nitida trees have fast growing and long reaching roots”.

It was pointed out that the roots cause considerable damage to the underlying infrastructure, private properties and archaeological remains. In its detailed submissions, the council also made reference to a radar survey carried out in relation to the area, attesting that there are “various underground structures below the surface”.

The council maintained that a number of property owners in the area were forced to carry out maintenance works in order to remedy the damage which their properties sustained in the meantime.

The council further pointed out that similar trees were removed in “other important sites in Malta and Gozo” and made specific reference to the area in front of the Auberge de Castille, the Cottonera Waterfront and St Peter and St Paul Square in Nadur.

Moreover, the council argued that the trees in dispute grew “out of proportion in relation to the square’s semblance”. On a different note, the council underlined that the trees have a “high survival rate” and further proposed to re-plant the trees elsewhere.

In reaction, the MEPA highlighted that the trees in dispute have been in place for more than 50 years and consequently protected under Schedule 11 (a) of Legal Notice 200 of 2011. The MEPA also insisted that the National Environment Policy promotes the retention of trees within all urban areas. With regard to the alleged structural damage, the authority said that such damage could be prevented if one were to introduce underground “root guards”.

As a final point, it was held that the existing archaeological remains, if any, could sustain further damage if the grounds were to be disturbed during the uprooting operations.

In its assessment, the Tribunal made express reference to Regulation 12 of LN 200 of 2011 which states that “ No person shall fell or attempt to fell, cut or attempt to cut, strip off or attempt to strip off the bark or leaves of, uproot or attempt to uproot, remove or attempt to remove timber from, affix or attempt to affix something to, or in any way destroy or attempt to destroy, damage or attempt to damage, any tree or part thereof listed in Schedule I or Schedule II”.

Now, Schedule II specifically refers to “all trees of more than 50 years of age in ODZ and UCA.” Against this background, the Tribunal concluded that the trees in dispute may therefore not be uprooted.