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Welcome guardianship deal

Eighteen years ago, Midi consortium was granted a highly-lucrative land deal by the then Nationalist administration to build luxury apartments at Tignè Point in return for restoring Fort Manoel and developing a luxury “Mediterranean-style village” on Manoel Island.

Although the outline planning development permit, issued before the concession to Midi was granted, included a condition requiring the foreshore to be made accessible to the public, the consortium had fenced off large parts of the island soon after the land deal was signed, thus preventing access.

The ugly, high-density Tignè Point development has been completed raking in millions of euros for the developers. Yet, apart from an excellent restoration of Fort Manoel itself, which was completed some four years ago and lies unutilised to this day, Manoel Island remains undeveloped and dilapidated. Works on the planned “Mediterranean Village” never started.

Eighteen months ago, to broad public approval, Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent – together with the mayor of Gżira – led a citizen’s action group to reoccupy Manoel Island and enjoy access to the foreshore. In the wake of this, Midi reached an agreement to allow limited access on weekends.

Following that civil protest and under the leadership of the Gżira mayor, there has been a most dramatic breakthrough on the future of Manoel Island. The Gżira local council has just signed a landmark guardianship agreement with Midi with the goal of guaranteeing protection and public access to the island’s heritage buildings, the foreshore and green areas – the only green lung for thousands of people in the area.

The agreement was reached after months of negotiations and represents a most encouraging and overdue turnaround in relations between Midi and the public. It will include the setting up of a foundation headed by lawyer and environmentalist Claire Bonello, as chairwoman, the Gżira mayor and his deputy and Midi’s chief executive officer.

The foundation will act as a watchdog over the terms of the commitments set out in the guardianship agreement, including the landscaping of the glacis surrounding Fort Manoel to build an 80,000-square-metre public park.

The fort itself – originally disgracefully earmarked for a hotel – will instead be turned into an arts and culture centre, comprising galleries, museums, shops and restaurants, which will be open to the public. This is a radical turnaround from the greedy land-grab that had earlier marked Midi’s approach to the project and it is all the more welcome for that.

Midi will still benefit commercially through a comprehensive development that will include a hotel at the historic Lazaretto, apartment blocks, retail outlets, public streets and plazas, as well as the upgrading of the marina to cater for large yachts. But the latest master plan drops plans for mooring points in the current swimming area beneath the fort, which will be retained for public use.

A proper rebalancing of public and commercial interests has been achieved. The one-sided agreement favouring the developer over the public interest reached 18 years ago has been overturned. Civic justice has been done.

This guardianship deed offers hope to civil society that similar partnerships may be drawn up in other parts of Malta where greedy developers appear to hold sway to the detriment of the citizen. This guardianship deed is both a precedent and a standard.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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