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Gozo Minister grilled at eco island project launch

Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono yesterday launched the consultation process for the government's eco island project to a grilling by environmentalists present, who insisted that action should complement the rhetoric.

The launch, held at the picturesque Lunzjata valley in the limits of Victoria, was clearly aimed at highlighting the island's assets but even on this point, Miriam Cremona, from the Valletta Rehabilitation Project, pointed out the gold-coloured aluminium door and notice board fixed to the mediaeval chapel behind the minister, to stress the need for an aggressive effort to educate but also to enforce.

The minister was asked about the stand the Gozo Ministry took on a number of environmentally-controversial projects, such as the application for a marina and a hotel in Ħondoq ir-Rummien and the revived proposal for a tourist complex at Ta' Ċenċ.

Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar coordinator Astrid Vella insistently asked whether the Gozo Ministry would be supporting the proposals which the Qala local council will be making for adjustments to the local plans making it more difficult for projects like the one at Ħondoq ir-Rummien to go through.

In her response, Mrs Debono kept referring to the money the government had given the council recently to carry out scientific studies with which to fight the project. However, she would not take a stand on the changes to the local plans.

"I am all for carrying out scientific studies but I will not be drawn into giving my opinion on such a matter. I would rather we have a study first," she said, even after Ms Vella pointed out that the study being carried out had nothing to do with the changes to the local plan.

Similarly, she would not be drawn into commenting on controversial decisions made by Mepa, saying it was "unethical" for ministers to publicly contradict decisions made by regulators. "I think ministers need to respect the decisions made by authorities," she said.

The consultation process on the eco island concept, one of the PN's main electoral promises, will end in September, after which a draft strategy for Gozo will be developed.

Another final consultation process will then follow, after which the strategy will be launched officially by the end of the year, the minister said.

Gozo has already made great strides on the environmental front, she insisted, mentioning, among others, the closure of the incinerator at the island's abattoir and the Qortin landfill as examples. "Until recently nobody would have imagined that this would be possible," she said.

Referring to "sceptical people" who have so far commented cynically on the eco island concept, she said in her speech, delivered before fielding questions, that "those who have not seen the improvements I have mentioned, must not be living in Malta".

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