Resurrection of eco-Gozo

The Gozo Channel

There is much more to a Gozo Channel bridge than its financial cost calculated in euros. There are also social and  environmental costs.

The proposal to link Malta and Gozo permanently has been around for ages. It involves connecting the islands such that there are no physical obstructions to proceed from one island to the other.

Gozo’s connectivity is a serious matter. Yet Gozo’s double insularity may well be its greatest asset which has been misunderstood and ill-used throughout the years.

The improvement of existing transport links  by introducing more efficient means or through alternative  means of transport is one way of looking at the channel crossing-challenge. Almost all  alternatives have been tried out in the past. Fast sea links linking Mġarr Gozo directly with a central location have been tried and subsequently discontinued. Alternatively, air links through the use of amphibious small planes  and helicopters too have been tried.

Will Gozo be better off if it is permanently linked to Malta?  I think that those insisting on the bridge or the tunnel genuinely believe that because they themselves may be better off everyone else will possibly be better off too.

Reality, unfortunately, is considerably different as with a physical link between Malta and Gozo there will be both winners and losers.   The process leading to a decision has to be both honest and transparent if it is to be of any help.

It has to be honest as it has to consider all the anticipated impacts of each proposal under consideration. Improved connectivity for industry to deliver goods produced in Gozo to Malta and elsewhere also signifies improved connectivity for working men and women living in Gozo and working in Malta. This could suggest that there may then be no more scope in locating industry in Gozo as the labourforce would easily access their working place. To date, providing work for Gozitans in Gozo has been an important social and political objective. If a physical link materialises this may no longer be so. Gozo will then be a locality just like any other in Malta.

Double insularity, if ditched by choice, will no longer be able to justify subsidies and incentives to lure industry to Gozo.  Double insularity will no longer be justification for EU regional development funds as it will no longer exist. What purpose then for the projected Gozo office in Brussels?

What about the impacts on the tourism industry?  Tourism policy relative to Gozo has always focused on Gozo as the destination with a difference. Gozo’s potential as an eco-tourism destination has been occassionally tapped. Diving is a well-developed niche market for eco-tourism in Gozo. Agri-tourism in Gozo has substantial potential, which is to date largely untapped.

These are issues whose potential could and should have been developed within the context of the eco-Gozo project. Unfortunately, this project has been hijacked by those who, after plagiarising the idea from  Alternattiva Demokratika used it as a slogan and ignored it as a vision.

The contribution to tourism of cultural activities such as opera performances  in Gozo is not to be underestimated. Such cultural activities contribute substantially to the viability of hotel operations in Gozo through the generation of revenue in the winter months. The introduction of a permanent link will undoubtedly increase the potential audiences for opera and other cultural activities in Gozo. However, with a bridge or tunnel in place, the use of hotels in Gozo will not be required by opera enthusiasts as they would be in a position to drive back home immediately. This has already been evident when Gozo Channel increased its trips through the introduction of late night trips.

In addition one has to consider environmental impacts. Impacts on protected marine areas in the Gozo Channel would be substantial. Add visual impacts in the case of the bridge or over two million cubic metres of excavated material in the case of the tunnel.

And what about the geological features of the Gozo Channel? As the area is riddled with geological faults, the first logical step is obviously a detailed geological examination of the area.  But what is obviously a logical first step seems not to have been given due weight.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta advocates a different line of action. A connectivity strategy for Gozo considering in detail all the different options is to be drawn up. After subjecting it to a Strategic Environment Assessement in line with the EU environmental legislation such a strategy should be subject to a public consultation, not just with the Gozitans but on a national level.

Taking into consideration all impacts would ensure that the decison taken is a sustainable one. Not in the interests of one specific sector but in the interests of all. Resurrecting (the real) eco-Gozo in the process would not be a bad idea.

Published in The Times of Malta – Saturday June 29, 2013 

4 comments on “Resurrection of eco-Gozo

  1. This is only a pipe dream… It will never happen. It is just a topic of discussion raised by politicians who have too much free time on their hands and who no doubt crave the attention these silly projects present. Such a bridge or tunnel is not feasible because they plain and simple are too expensive to fund and the money is just not there. So these fools can keep bringing up the subject every four years but it’s only in the figment of their imagination.. That’s my opinion and I hope I am right.

  2. An excellent analysis. But my view is that:
    1. Both a tunnel and a bridge will, sooner than not, only serve to denature Gozo from what it really is, in terms of its characteristics.
    2. The Gozitans have a great flaw. They conveniently refuse to think like the people of so many other islands in the European seas.
    3. A good, rapid, punctual, clean and efficient catamaran service, operating on frequencies like buses should stop all their regular complaining. Government should invest in such a service or subsidise one.
    And i am sure there are other solutions than the tunnel and bridge hairbrained ideas!

    John

  3. I agree with Charles Sammut that a bridge or tunnel will never happen, at least not in the near future. What worries me is that they may offer a fixed wing link instead as a consolation which will do nothing but cause more harm to the island. Please don’t look at this from the point of view of tourists as it’s the last thing tourists want. Tourists come to Gozo because of the double insularity not in spite of it. We come for the extra peace and quiet that Gozo offers which is the very same reason why so many Maltese have holiday homes on Gozo. If it was to become connected permanently to Malta it would just end up as a suburb of the main island.

    What needs to be addressed are the real problems faced by Gozitans who work or attend school in Malta. Whilst a fixed link would go a long way to addressing these problems of daily travel they would still face the same congested roads once they reached Malta. What we need to be looking at is a way of getting Gozitan workers and students from A to B in a more logical and quicker way whilst at the same time taking some of the load off the road network in Malta. To that end the logical answer has to be faster foot passenger only ferry system calling at various locations around Malta coupled with a public transport system that synchronises with the ferry arrivals. The main problem with the busses at the moment is that the drivers seem to operate to their own schedule rather than the supplied timetable and have been known to leave passengers standing at bus stops because stopping would slow them down or taking shortcuts and missing the stops altogether.

    Whatever happens must address the issues of the local people so please don’t drag us tourists into the argument because we like things just the way they are. We crave the double insularity and enjoy the ferry crossing and contrary to what some people are trying to say we are not begging for a bridge, tunnel or air link. With regard to the air link has anyone considered just who would actually make use of it? Would Gozitan workers use it to travel to work in the morning? Of course not. Would students use it to get to school in the morning? Of course not. The onus for its survival would fall on tourists as it did with the helicopter links in the past and for that reason it would fail. All that would remain would be concrete and a new playground for owners of light aircraft which would make life hell for everyone on Gozo. So in summary I say no to an air link, no to a tunnel and no to a bridge. The islands are surrounded by water obviously so it’s time to wake up and start using that in a more logical way.

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