Vague plans for a new road linking Mġarr to Victoria bypassing the city-centre, a brand new port development and an airport are included in a public consultation document which is short on detail on the crucial question of where such developments will take place.
All these developments which underpin the governments’ strategy for development in Gozo in the 2017 to 2020 period are expected to have a considerable impact on the environment. Last month, Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg said that Transport Malta was in the process of embarking on new phase of studies to assess the feasibility of the Malta-Gozo tunnel project.
The development of a fully fledged port is “crucial” to reduce Gozo’s dependency on the current port infrastructure at Mġarr, the document says.
“An alternative port will provide the necessary security, in terms of connectivity, as well as additional capacity”.
Potential is also seen for the expansion of the Mġarr port to accommodate new facilities.
The development of yacht marinas and a cruise liner berthing facility are also being considered with the aim of “maximising the relevant economic potential through such interventions”.
An expression of interest issued by the newly elected Labour 2013 for the development of a Gozo cruise liner terminal resulted in only one bid being presented by the Kalamarine consortium.
Plans earmarking a quarry owned by Gatt Constructions Ltd in Qala, were inadvertently revealed by the Milan office of Chapman Taylor, who won a design competition for the terminal concept in 2015. But since than the project was never mentioned again.
In 2013 former Gozo Minister Anton Refalo had referred to Marsalforn’s potential for a yacht marina. But the idea of a Gozitan ‘Portomaso’ in Marsalforn never materialised when the foreign partners for a local investor lost interest in the project. The project would also have involved residential development in the vicinity or beneath a protected valley. A similar proposal made to the previous government had been rejected for this reason.
The latest consultation document also refers to the need for the development of alternative links between Victoria and the Mġarr Port to reduce the burden on the current infrastructure and foster the development of contingency routes as well as to promote roads bypassing the centre of Victoria “to remove any bottlenecks and to reduce traffic from within the urban activity area.”
Upgrades in the road network infrastructure, the development of additional port related infrastructure, the introduction of a fast ferry service and the development of an air link are all seen as “complementary measures which will ameliorate the transport sector and will enable Gozo to shift towards a higher quality destination”.
Present Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana was opposed to the development of an airport in Xewkija.
The idea was first proposed by a Nationalist government in the 1990s but was discarded by the Labour Party when it took office in 1996 due to the inevitable environmental impact. Subsequent Nationalist governments commissioned further reports but avoided taking a decision. The idea of developing an airport in Gozo was resurrected by the newly elected Labour government in 2013.
In 2015 former Gozo Minister Anton Refalo refused to table in Parliament the economic and social impact assessment and the cost benefit analysis of an airfield in Gozo, saying the information is commercially sensitive.
The Nationalist Party was evasive when asked whether it agrees with an airfield in Gozo before the 2017 general election.
The Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development approved in 2015 refers to the development of cruise liner terminal, a yacht marina, a new reverse osmosis plant and an airfield in Gozo. Ambiguously, the SPED also refers to the need of “better links between Malta and Gozo.”