It seems that MIDI plc are worried about their image and have engaged a PR consultant to launder their reputation.

They have good reason to be worried after the way they transformed the Tigné Peninsula and their dismal record on Manoel Island. As a result of the Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar appeal, the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has annulled both the Outline Development Permit for the Manoel Island masterplan as well as the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) due to fraud through a false declaration.

However, MIDI’s PR consultant has adopted a patronising tone towards the public. An article tells us that the foreshore of Manoel Island is “now a popular swimming spot” when it has been a favourite swimming spot since the Maltese were allowed into what was previously a reserved British military establishment. Generations of Gżirjani and others frequented the area for swimming for many years until MIDI put a stop to it by shuttering up the whole island even though the foreshore never belonged to them.

This continued until a group led by Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent and supported by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, among others, forced open the gates in September 2016. MIDI complained volubly against allowing access but had to give in. In the 16 long years that MIDI closed off access, how many visitors were denied the simple pleasure of a swim or fishing or a walk? Using MIDI’s numbers, it would mean 800,000 visits capriciously denied.

MIDI CEO Mark Portelli lauded the company’s commitment “to provide better access to swimming zones at Manoel Island”. However, MIDI’s true character is revealed in the Times of Malta report of September 24, 2016: “The company hit back, describing the action as ‘a break-in’ and threatened legal action. It also blamed activists for vandalism.”

It is people power that forced this change not MIDI’s bleeding heart. Now are we supposed to be thankful for being allowed to use the foreshore that had always belonged to the public by right? Are we supposed to be grateful for an occasional minibus service provided? How patronising!

It must be stated that MIDI continues to hide the fact that most of the north and east foreshore that makes up the popular swimming areas facing Tigné and Valletta is reserved for exclusive use by MIDI. If MIDI get their way, these areas will be used for water sports, berthing of ferries and water taxis. They will not be exclusive safe swimming zones, and swimmers would have to share the water with speedboats and other watercraft.

As stated above, MIDI’s article fails to mention that its masterplan has been annulled by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal together with the relative Environment Impact Assessment following an appeal by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar.

FAA’s vision is to create an oasis of peace and tranquillity for people to unwind in a healthy, green area- Astrid Vella

The article omits the fact that a consultant with a blatant conflict of interest signed a report through which MIDI managed to convince the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage to approve the demolition of a late 19th century heritage cattle quarantine shed that was used until the 1960s.

As this building stood in the way of their proposed blocks of flats and Isolotto Square, the cattle shed had to go. The matter is now under investigation by regulatory bodies following complaints by FAA. MIDI is also required to redo the Environment Impact Assessment if it wants to proceed. FAA is insisting with the Planning Authority to revoke all the development permits issued to MIDI on the basis of the annulled masterplan and EIA. Complaints have also been raised with the Office of the Ombudsman, which has launched its own investigation.

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar will continue to work towards turning Manoel Island into a heritage park for the enjoyment of the residents of Gżira and the densely populated areas surrounding what is known as the North Harbour Area, comprising Sliema, St Julian’s, Ta’ Xbiex, Swieqi, San Ġwann and further afield. This island is unique – a jewel that should not be gutted by turning it into yet another elite housing estate like Tigné.

The vision of Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and of countless residents is to create an oasis of peace and tranquillity for people to unwind in a healthy, green area. Manoel Island could be turned into a green park with eco-sustainable recrea­tional activities in a safe, car-free environment with a picnic area, walking or jogging trails, bike lanes, a sailing club, canoeing and other family activities such as kite flying and archery. All with the backdrop of a splendid Fort Manoel, a restored Lazzaretto and the magnificent Valletta and Floriana bastions.

A people’s heritage and nature park for Manoel Island. This is an ambitious vision but, for the sake of residents’ health, it’s a dream that needs to come true.

Astrid Vella from the Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar committee.

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