The Malta-Gozo tunnel: the final countdown to Gozo’s plunder starts now

Next Wednesday is a public holiday. It is also the closing date of the public consultation being carried out by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) on the terms of reference for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel.

The ERA website presents two documents to assist those participating in the public consultation. These documents explain the proposal and highlight a number of issues that will require further investigation in order to assist the decision-takers in choosing for the “optimum” solution.

There is a number of glaring deficiencies in these documents which indicate the contempt that Transport Malta has for our environmental heritage.

Transport Malta bases its proposals on the Mott MacDonald Report of March 2012 entitled: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. After considering the four options for a tunnel as resulting from the Mott MacDonald report, Transport Malta opted for an amended version of option number 4 which is proposed as consisting of a single bore two lane tunnel between the area below Ta’ Kenuna in Nadur, Gozo and L-Imbordin along the Pwales Valley in St Paul’s Bay in Malta.

We are told in the published documentation that the first three options were discarded because they could be the cause of considerable environmental damage to the seabed, as well as to the Għadira Nature Reserve. However, neither Transport Malta nor the ERA considered it appropriate to mention that the selected option, an amended option 4, stretches the Malta portal of the proposed tunnel to the Pwales valley very close to the Simar Nature Reserve and right through the Miżieb perched aquifer.

The Simar Nature Reserve is an EU Natura 2000 site, while the Miżieb perched aquifer is the only part of our water table that is still in a relatively good state. Consequently, two important EU Directives will most probably be infringed: The Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Based on NSO statistics, in 2015 average number of daily vehicular crossings between Malta and Gozo was around 3,000. The various studies and reports published to date indicate that it is estimated that a tunnel between the two islands would trigger an increase to between 9,000 and 10,000 vehicle crossings daily. Gordon Cordina of Ecubed in his report commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber indicates a 9,000-daily mark, while Mott MacDonald points towards the 10,000 mark.

This considerable increase in vehicular movements needs to be analysed in terms of current transport policy. The Transport Master Plan, adopted by the current government and funded by the European Regional Development Fund, is very clear. It lays down that during its 10-year lifespan (2016-25) it will be an operational objective of transport policy in Malta to aim to provide alternatives to the use of private vehicles and to reduce the role of the private car as a means of transport in the Maltese Islands.

So, Transport Malta, on behalf of the Maltese government, spells out transport policy in 2016 aimed at addressing traffic congestion in Malta by encouraging a modal shift towards sustainable mobility. Yet it then comes out with proposals such as the Malta-Gozo Tunnel, which can only be feasible if there is an astronomical increase in vehicular traffic on our roads.

The documents placed by the ERA on its website to feed the public consultation process on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel ignore transport policy altogether.

This is the current state of affairs. By now we are accustomed to having a Planning Authority acting in synch with the development lobby. Unfortunately, it seems that the Environment and Resources Authority is closely following in its footsteps. The final countdown is on. It will inevitably lead to the plunder of Gozo as well.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 August 2018

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