Ġnien iż-Żgħażagħ, a small garden on the outskirts of the town of Gudja, was presented as the latest Project Green open space last week in a launch addressed by Environment Minister Miriam Dalli, Project Green CEO Steve Ellul and Gudja mayor Marija Sara Vella Gafa.
Project Green is a recently-launched government agency tasked with implementing an electoral promise to spend €700m on urban greening projects.
In a press release published to mark the inauguration, the Environment Ministry said that “after works in an abandoned zone, Gudja residents will be able to enjoy an open space in Ġnien iż-Żgħażagħ”.
The press release goes on to describe how the works “breathed new life into the garden”.
However, some pointed out that the same space had previously been inaugurated as a garden as recently as 2018, in an event attended by the late Labour Party MP Silvio Parnis, the late Gudja mayor John Mary Calleja, and Nationalist Party MP Ryan Callus, amongst several others.
What happened in 2018?
Residents who spoke to Times of Malta described how the area was initially an abandoned and overgrown field, with no formal access to the public, before a group of local youths decided to take advantage of a scheme run by Aġenzija Żgħażagħ, the national youth agency, to clean up the area.
The scheme awarded youth local councils up to €3,000 to carry out works to improve their locality and provide training to young councillors, encouraging youths to adopt a more active role in their community’s civic life.
The Gudja youth council were awarded €2,000 to carry out a project on the site, with seven local youths between the ages of 17 and 20 carrying out the work of cleaning the site and installing benches.
The garden was officially inaugurated on 26th May 2018 by the Gudja local council and Aġenzija Żgħażagħ.
What happened last week?
On Monday 12th June, Project Green officially inaugurated the “renovated space”, unveiling the newly-refurbished garden, together with a plaque commemorating the works.
The plaque from the original inauguration was kept, although residents told Times of Malta that this was moved to a different area within the garden.
In a Facebook post to mark the inauguration, Project Green described the garden as one “that was abandoned and was given new life” through the regeneration project.
Nationalist Party MP Mark Anthony Sammut, formerly a councillor in the town’s local council, hit back at the inauguration, saying that all that was done was to “hide the original inauguration plaque, plant some flowers and try to take credit (for the garden)”.
One of the youths on the Gudja youth council who formed part of the original project in 2018 told Times of Malta “while we appreciate the works that were carried out recently, we are disappointed that our previous work was not acknowledged”.
What kind of works took place?
Replying to questions from Times of Malta, the Environment ministry said that Project Green “cleaned the area, planted additional indigenous trees and shrubs and installed new benches”.
A visit to the garden carried out by Times of Malta found several newly planted carob and olive trees, as well as two circular flower beds and newly installed picnic benches. The garden is enclosed by wooden fencing along its perimeter.
In its replies, the ministry argued that the space had fallen into disrepair since the 2018 inauguration and was in a “derelict state”.
“Unfortunately, the area had become a dumping site. During the regeneration works, Project Green’s workers removed close to 100 tonnes of illegally dumped material, including metal, rocks and other waste.”
Were 100 tonnes of waste really removed?
While residents who spoke with Times of Malta confirmed that the garden had been left in a poor state over recent years, it is unclear whether it was actively used as a dumping site and whether 100 tonnes of waste was removed from the garden.
100 tonnes is the equivalent of some 66 mid-sized cars, or a little over a single Boeing 737 aircraft. The size of the garden is estimated to be just over 980 square metres.
Photos posted by Miriam Dalli on Facebook on 1st April, when works were already underway, show small mounds of debris being removed, including plastic wrappers, branches and other organic material. However, the photos do not suggest the removal of large quantities of waste.
Questions were sent to the ministry asking whether 100 tonnes of waste were really removed, as well as requesting photos of the dumped material before the works took place, however, no reply was received by the time of publication.
The garden was initially opened to the public in 2018 as part of a project run by a group of local youths, who cleaned the area and installed benches. The garden remained open to the public since then.
The garden subsequently fell into disrepair, until it was once again cleaned and embellished with new trees and benches earlier this month.
The Environment Ministry claims that 100 tonnes of waste were removed in the cleanup, however, this could not be verified.
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