Watch: Protesters pull down Manoel Island fencing, hold new protest, as government, PA join calls for access to foreshore
Updated at 7.30am, 11am Saturday: Adds statement by Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent, new protest at Manoel Island, 2.30pm - adds PN statement, 3.15pm - adds PL's reply, 3.30pm - adds AD statement.
Members of the protest group Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent this morning pulled down part of the fencing at Manoel Island which had been closing off access to the foreshore.
The group said its early morning action was in line with what it promised to do last week.
It also welcomed calls by the government and the PA yesterday for developers Midi to permanently provide access to the foreshore.
Later in the morning a group of some 300 mostly residents from Gzira held a fresh protest on Manoel Island, calling for free access to the foreshore. They later roamed on various parts of the island.
The government yesterday filed a judicial protest against Midi, calling on it to adhere to its contract and Maltese laws and provide the access to the Manoel Island foreshore.
The government, through the Attorney General and the Assistant Attorney General, said Midi was not adhering to its contract conditions as it was denying access to parts of the foreshore that had not been passed on to the company.
The protest was filed just before Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent activists yesterday evening sailed together with fishermen to Manoel Island.
On their arrival they unfolded and put up a banner Aċċess Bi Dritt (We demand our right to access). (see statement below)
In its statement, the government said it was and would remain pro-business and encourage private investment.
However, it would not tolerate illegalities and abuse.
Meanwhile, the Planning Authority also issued an enforcement notice requesting Midi to immediately remove the four gates it installed without permit and which were hindering access. It gave MIDI 16 days to take action or appeal the order.
The outline development permit the PA had issued Midi in October 1999 included a condition that the foreshore be made accessible “throughout the construction and operational phases” of the private consortium’s developments at Manoel Island and Tigné.
Midi has fenced off Manoel Island and installed gates that prevent people from enjoying the foreshore and other designated public areas.
The Gżira council filed a judicial protest last week and, later, activists from Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent, a coalition of green groups, forced their way through the wire fence, opening access to the foreshore.
Once access was opened, scores of people could be seen swimming, fishing and strolling around Manoel Island.
The company hit back, describing the action as “a break in” and threatened legal action. It also blamed activists for vandalism. The accusations were flatly denied by the mayor, who said side gates to the fort were purposely left open by the company, and any vandalism had long been there.
The company installed a new gate and later said it had set up meetings with the government during which it would explore the possibility of granting some concessions to the public on Manoel Island.
Core issue is whether public have right of passage over private property - MIDI
In a statement yesterday, Midi said it had no issue whatsoever with the public having access to the foreshore.
The core issue, it said, was whether the public had the right of passage over private property held by Midi for the last 16 years.
The company said it had always been advised that it was totally within its rights to prevent such access.
Referring to the judicial protest, the company said it will be filing a counter-protest on Monday. It also referred to an article in the Times of Malta stating that the right of access emanated from the Outline Development Permit issued by the Planning Authority
"However, the grant in question is governed by the deed of emphyteusis, and no permit can automatically give legal rights to access over private land," it said.
It again said it was currently in negotiations with the government to unilaterally allow pedestrian access over its private property during daytime, provided it was aware who was entering and exiting.
It would also be erecting fences around the entire island, once it received Planning Authority permits, to prevent trespassing over its private property to heritage sites, and other areas which were not yet safe for unrestricted private access.
Back to colonial times - Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent
In a statement, Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent said the action highlighted the absurdity of a situation where such a beautiful place, and one of the few open spaces in the area, was only accessible by sea since MIDI insisted on closing all access, surrounding the island with fences and gates.
"People living in this area recount how the British colonisers used to prohibit persons from going to parts of the island... History is now repeating itself, with the rich and the powerful prohibiting people from enjoying this place and trying to bully those that are fighting this injustice."
This, the activists said, was unacceptable and such behaviour was both illegal under Maltese law and also in clear breach of the contract between MIDI and the government.
This, they said, unequivocally stated that there should always be access to the foreshore.
PN calls for common sense solution
In a statement, the Nationalist Party called for a common sense solution to the problem that would benefit not just for Gżira residents but all Maltese and Gozitans.
The issue, the party said, could only be resolved if Dr Muscat sat round a table with the consortium that was impeding access and ensured that the people’s interest was safeguarded.
While the Prime Minister had no environmental credentials, as could be seen from his decisions to destroy Żonqor and issue permits for the building of five skyscrapers in one day, this did not mean that the people did not expect him to take action on the issue, the PN said.
Government first to take action in support of residents
Replying to the PN's statement, the Labour Party said that while the PN leader was now siding with Gżira residents, these people wanted to know why the PN government had not done anything about the matter.
This government, it said, was the first to take action in support of residents.
Manoel Island should become an eco-island - AD
Welcoming the government's legal action against MIDI, Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola said there should now be rapid enforcement against the blatant infringements by MIDI.
"Manoel Island should be reclaimed by the government and maintained as an eco-island and natural park, with only pedestrian and bicycle access."
He said that following the legal action taken against the Manoel Island operators and the tuna fish farm owners, it was now imperative that these measures were enforced as soon as possible.
They should then be extended to other areas which were illegally taken over and sometimes developed, such as Montekristo Estates and Armier."