AMMAN — Environment activists on Tuesday renewed a call for the government to halt plans to demolish the old army headquarters in Abdali and uproot hundreds of trees as part of an investment project.
The activists said that the former Jordan Armed Forces headquarters in the central Amman District, threatened with demolition as part of the Abdali development project, is part of the city's heritage, while the decades-old trees surrounding it are among the last remaining green spaces in the capital.
The development project, under which towers and commercial boulevards are being constructed in Abdali, requested the government's permission to remove nearly 750 trees at the site.
In July, the Cabinet granted the investment company implementing the project approval to cut down 541 trees instead of 750, provided that it plant five trees in return for every uprooted one, according to an official at the Ministry of Agriculture, who said that 2,705 trees will be planted on a plot of land in Mafraq.
The Cabinet's decision overruled a recommendation from the Ministry of Agriculture that the blueprints for the project be altered instead to avoid removing the trees, the official said in August.
Jordan Agricultural Engineers Association (JAEA) President Mahmoud Abu Ghneimah said on Tuesday that a committee of representatives from the JAEA, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) and other environmental societies was following up on the issue.
"The Cabinet's approval is a continuation of easily taken policies that okay the uprooting of trees for the sake of investment projects instead of altering blueprints or selecting new locations," Abu Ghneimah told reporters during a media tour of the site of the old army headquarters.
The decision not only eliminates some of the last remaining trees in Amman, he said, but also allows the destruction of the 1950s-era army headquarters, a structure of historical and architectural significance.
"The building is part of the city's heritage,” Abu Ghneimah underscored. “It is very beautiful and one of Amman’s historical landmarks."
Feras Smadi, an activist and one of the coordinators of the committee, said there was no need for the building or the trees to be removed.
"The company can turn the building into a museum and a library, and the square around it can become a public park, thus creating a green area in the new downtown currently under construction," Smadi told The Jordan Times.
He added that the committee will hold a meeting with the company soon to discuss alternatives to uprooting the trees and removing the building.
Meanwhile, Omar Shoshan, RSCN spokesperson and head of its environment policies and advocacy department, noted that the trees at the site are between 80 and 90 years old and constitute integrated and independent ecosystems.
Shoshan stressed that the authorities must create more green spaces in Amman instead of uprooting the few remaining trees in the capital, reiterating a warning that the city is turning into “a block of cement”.
"We urge the government and the company to consider our demands and alter the plans," Shoshan said on Tuesday.
In a press statement issued by the committee, the activists said that any future steps they may take to protect the site and its trees would depend on how the government and the company respond to their demands.