A €4 million park and ride project that began construction work four years ago in an area on the limits of Xewkija known as ‘Ta’ Xħajma’ remains in the initial stages of excavation, a site visit by The Shift has confirmed.
Construction works on the facility at Ta’ Xħajma began in 2018, before a Planning Authority permit was issued in 2019. According to the permit, the 23,000sqm site will include a bus terminal, charging points for electric buses and “a roofed deck to house recreation areas”.
In a move that The Shift had previously reported as a rushed PR stunt following Prime Minister Robert Abela’s return from the COP26 climate conference in November last year, six electric buses were wheeled out from the garage they were in to provide a park and ride service from Ta’ Xħajma to Mġarr’s Harbour Ferry.
At the time, the government had trumpeted the announcement of the project as part of the government’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions in Gozo.
While the six electric buses, purchased by the government from Tumas Group offshoot Tum Invest for €1.7 million, are operational, the heliport they were supposed to be servicing in Xewkija isn’t, meaning that the only aspect of the park and ride that is actually operational four years down the line is just the buses themselves.
A site visit by The Shift revealed what seems to be a completely abandoned heliport that was not manned by anyone, with two helicopters laying dormant on the nearby runway. Reports suggest that the heliport has been largely unused for years, with the government bringing up potential plans for its use every now and then, but with no concrete results to date.
In February, the Gozo ministry launched a public consultation about whether to potentially extend the heliport to accommodate a small runway for light aircraft. Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri has previously spoken of converting the airstrip into a small air-taxi service connected to Malta International Airport.
Meanwhile, the ‘100% electric’ park and ride service from Xewkija to Mġarr remains limited to the operation of the buses themselves, which The Shift spotted on a site visit to the abandoned heliport.
At the time the project was announced by Camilleri in November, the bus service which was supposed to be manned by the Gozo ministry had instead to be staffed by Malta Public Transport drivers due to the haste with which it was put together.
This was not the first instance in which the Gozo ministry took years to pull together a project that either went over deadlines or required extra costs beyond what was originally budgeted, with the ministry often resorting to using additional direct orders further funded by taxpayers.
A major example of this was the Gozo sports complex project, the costs of which ballooned from €9 million to at least €16 million. The project was supposed to be operational by the end of 2021.