I have been following the Manoel Island development plan since the late 1990s, when the Midi original proposals were presented. Unlike its sister Tignè Point project, this development never took place. In the meantime, like many others, I hoped that the island would be transformed into some green public space amid the concentration of urban development in nearby Gżira, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex and Msida.

Last year the Gżira local council and environmental NGOs mobilised people on the situation at Manoel Island and this led to a new draft master plan and the signing of a guardianship agreement with the local council and NGOs. If implemented, this would be step forward from previous plans as it declares the protection and public access to the area’s foreshore, green areas and heritage buildings.

In the meantime, Midi has proposed new development plans, which include 600 apartment blocks, a hotel at Lazaretto, a yacht marina, a helipad, public plazas and shops. According to the developers there will be 80,000 square metres of new parks and family areas, as well as an arts and culture centre at Fort Manoel comprising galleries, museums, shops and restaurants.

Let’s hope that these won’t be a replica of some other ‘cultural’ projects in Malta which simply provided more cathedrals of consumption.

The developers are also considering a novel method to reduce excavation material that goes to waste. They are proposing to reuse around 121,000 cubic metres on site, another 67,000 cubic metres in a land reclamation project, and to dispose of the remaining 100,000 cubic metres in the sea as per approval of the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA).

The latter will involve around 11 truckloads per hour for 40 weeks in an area which is already congested by traffic.

Let’s hope that these won’t be a replica of some other ‘cultural’ projects in Malta which simply provided more cathedrals of consumption

ERA and the developers’ consultants recently presented the findings of the project’s environment impact assessment to the public. The meeting, in which I participated, was very poorly attended, and I could count more ERA officials and developers’ consultants than members of the public, who amounted to around 15 persons.

The meeting was very civil, and it was generally agreed that despite shortcomings, the proposed development represents a step forward compared to previous plans. Still there are various concerns which should be addressed.

For example, the EIA estimates around 4,700 vehicle trips every day from the project by 2025, and these will be incorporated within a grand total of 39,000 vehicle trips on the strand and through Gżira. During the meeting those present heard that this will result in an increase in pollution of around seven per cent, which is ‘moderate’ according to EIA and international criteria.

To help make up for this the developers are proposing a green travel plan within Manoel Island, involving water transport, bicycles, electric buggies and the like. But the golden question here is: will this plan be binding, or is it just part of a wish list?

Another important issue concerns water flow and circulation in view of land reclamation projects in the area. ERA chairman Victor Axiak had once suggested a plan for the whole area to ensure that water circulation will not be impacted negatively.

In the meantime, we must take the word of the developer’s consultant that underbridge dredging will increase flow and circulation.

As regards the 600 apartments, it is important to note that they will be visible from the Gżira promenade. One hopes that their architectural design will be aesthetically valuable.

Unfortunately, this development project is exempt from a social impact assessment. I fail to see how such a significant project does not qualify for such a study: the latter could internalise stakeholders’ concerns and views on the proposed development, possibly resulting in a win-win situation through a more inclusive development process.

I also fail to understand why the Planning Authority does not investigate the cumulative impact of all development projects in the area through a sustainable approach. But this requires political will and a more forward-looking remit for the authority. This is not yet in place.

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