Land reclamation - Godwin Cassar
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Land reclamation - Godwin Cassar

It was recently reported that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has signalled his intention to steam ahead with the construction of artificial islands and land reclamation to make use of the rock that will be cut out of the earth for the Malta-Gozo tunnel. 

This declaration has to be put in context: in 2013 the government invited proposals for land reclamation in the absence of a national strategy on the matter. 

It is positive that no such proposals were selected. As reported by Lovin Malta.com: “Transport Malta, ERA and Planning are conducting studies in this regard to help the government issue a land reclamation policy’’. 

So the government had to wake up to this reality that we are running out of space where we can deposit construction waste five years after the above-mentioned call for proposals. This had already been predicted by consultants Scott Wilson when a study on the feasibility of land reclamation was conducted in 2006.

‘A Land Reclamation Study: Project Identification Report’ was commissioned by Mepa in 2004. The report presented a preliminary evaluation of the issues associated with reclamation including an overview of the coastal zone in Malta and the relevant legislation and policies. It also presented a preliminary evaluation of the potential for reclamation in six separate areas situated around the coast of Malta. 

The report highlighted the need for further site investigations and pre-feasibility studies in order to establish an informed basis for the decision on whether or not to proceed with a land reclamation project. 

Mepa carried out a short-listing exercise to reduce the six areas identified within the Project Identification Report to two areas. 

The decision to proceed with further investigation of Area 1 and Area 3 was approved by the government. 

The government had to wake up to this reality that we are running out of space where we can deposit construction

It is reported that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) recently advised the Cabinet that a stretch of the southeastern coast between Żonqor Point and Fort Ricasoli had been identified as the only possible site which, on environmental grounds, could accommodate large-scale land reclamation projects. 

Whether this advice results from the mentioned studies is not known. 

Such studies were conducted by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority between 2006 and 2007 through the appointment of a renowned Danish consultancy firm Carl Bro, having expertise in land reclamation, and British consultants Scott Wilson. The latter deemed land reclamation projects unfeasible unless massive real estate development is included in the project. 

Although Muscat, then leader of the Opposition, had acknowledged that a previous study was carried out by Mepa, he questioned Mepa’s competence in gauging the economic feasibility of a land reclamation project, since this was not expressly within its remit as a planning authority. 

Well, the position taken by Mepa was underpinned by consultants’ advice.  

Whether the new studies are duplicating efforts in this regard is not known because the new studies are under wraps. 

Soon after that ERA gave this advice to the government about Xgħajra, Malta Today reported that the Labour administration will consider a far longer coastline identified in a site selection exercise by the ERA, with the identified area extending the entire area between Xgħajra and Portomaso in St Julian’s, which includes waters off Sliema, Valletta and the Cottonera. 

If implemented, this will have major implications on the existing areas in terms of environmental impact. It is not yet known whether the latter extension by ERA of the area identified as suitable for land reclamation resulted from pressure by the development lobby. 

It surely does not seem to have been the subject of rigorous environmental studies as had been undertaken by Carl Bro and Scott Wilson over a decade ago.

Godwin Cassar is former director general, Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece.

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