Updated: Land reclamation could ease pressure off ODZ – Muscat
Updated - Adds government reaction -
Real Estate projects involving land reclamation could ease the pressure off construction proposals outside development zones (ODZ), Labour Party Leader Joseph Muscat insisted this morning during a meeting with environmentalists.
"The important thing is not to create so many thousands of square meters and then figuring out later what to do with them but rather have a master plan before hand," Dr Muscat said.
He was answering questions by The Times on the controversial subject of land reclamation as he received a delegation from the environmental and heritage lobby group Din L-Art Helwa.
He dismissed the idea that the Malta Environmental and Planning Authority had given the thumbs down to land reclamation arguing that a report commissioned by the authority had simply questioned the viability of such projects.
He said Mepa had reports which showed that projects which included an element of land reclamation could be carried out without harming the environment. But the Authority was facing pressure to keep such reports under wraps and it was therefore saying that such projects were not commercially viable.
"We believe that Mepa should not get into questions of economic viability but should be concerned instead with whether a project is feasible from a planning and environmental point of view," he said pointing out that Malta already had a list of such projects under its belt, from the Freeport, to the more recent Excelsior Hotel.
Asked whether the Labour party envisioned any specific use for land reclamation projects, Dr Muscat referred to the interest there has been over the years in the development of yacht marinas in Malta.
"The mention of a new yacht marina is very often followed by a panicked reaction and it is understandable when we're talking of a place like Hondoq ir-Rummien. I don't think a yacht marina is a good idea there ... but there is clearly an international interest in this sort of project and we should explore it," he said.
In a reaction, the Ministry for Tourism and the Environment said Dr Muscat had a poor understanding of environment and planning considerations and did not appreciate the importance of the marine environment.
"Dr Muscat would do well to note that our marine environment is as important as our land environment. Our coastal waters are rich in biodiversity, posedonia meadows and have a tourism and leisure perspective given the importance of diving in Malta. Indeed our coastal waters are recognised internationally as being amongst the most attractive in the Mediterranean," the ministry said.
"Given that our development zones contain sufficient area to satisfy our building requirements, there is no reason to justify land reclamation to 'ease pressures of ODZ'. The issues are totally unrelated."
The ministry said that like all other projects, any projects involving land reclamation, could not be seen from a uniquely myopic economic dimension as Dr Muscat was doing.
"Dr Muscat's vision for land reclamation development is one that would lead to unsustainable and irresponsible development. Sustainable development rests on three pillars of equal importance, economic, environmental and social. To be sustainable, projects must take into account these three dimensions holistically. It is evident from Dr Muscat's comments that he considers that any potential economic advantages of a project, should prevail over any environmental or social impacts. Dr Muscat is promoting development at all costs rather than responsible and sustainable development."