The coast and coastal areas belong to all of us

The recent publication of the EIA for what is commonly referred to as the Villa Rosa project at St George’s Bay St Julians brings us back to the dB Pembroke project debate as well as the Paceville Masterplan aborted some six years ago as a result of an intensive debate which involved heavily civil society.

Once more the issue is a development proposal which seeks further intensive commercialisation of the coast and the coastal area. In addition, the impacts on the surroundings are substantial,

The proposal involves a massive 47,572 square metres footprint with a proposed development mix of tourism, leisure and business uses in an area which is already saturated and as a result overcrowded at practically all times of the year.

The EIA contains a number of studies relative to a multitude of aspects. One of these studies is an economic analysis by E-Cubed Consultants. As expected, this study gives a glowing economic endorsement of the project. We have become used to such studies which seem to be able to justify anything. In arriving at its conclusions this study, completely ignores the impacts which the Villa Rosa project will have on the public infrastructure and on the fact that this will have to be made good for by the public coffers. The impacts are substantial when the project is viewed on its own but they assume enormous proportions when viewed cumulatively with the impacts generated by other major projects already in hand or in the pipeline for the area.

This is another case of profits being channelled to the private sector with the public purse being expected to foot the bill for the infrastructural development required. E-Cubed are completely silent on the matter.

Is this the tourism model for the future? As clearly indicated by the Deloitte study on the tourism carrying capacity in the Maltese islands, commissioned by MHRA, at the end of the day we would require 4.7 million tourists per annum if existing and projected tourism projects are to have around an 80 per cent occupancy. This is pure madness: it would signify a more than doubling of the current number of  tourist arrivals.

Even the government stated target of 3 million tourists per annum is too high. If the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) was anything close to serious it would have by now have taken urgent action to curtail the unrestrained development spree of these speculative developers. Their greed has no limits. It is driving this country towards a complete ruin.

The commercialisation of the coast and coastal areas has to stop before it engulfs the few open spaces left undeveloped in the vicinity of the coast.

Through amendments to the Civil Code in what is known as the Public Domain Act Parliament has approved legislation to protect the coast and to increase access to the public as a result. This legislative action unfortunately has so far proven to be another gimmick. If it were to be in any way effective this legislation would have nipped in the bud the proposed Villa Rosa development as it goes against both the letter and the spirit of this legislation.

A continuous effort to commercialise the coast is under way. It has been going on for quite some time. Some time back we had the proposal for a Marsaskala yacht marina. Some other glaring examples which come to mind are the case of  Manoel Island, Balluta Bay, the Birgu Waterfront and yacht marina, the Kalkara yacht marina, Valletta Waterfront.

There is also the ongoing commercialisation of the public spaces adjacent to the coast, including pavements and open spaces.

Public land is continuously being transformed into private profits, many times for the chosen few. In practically all cases, the quality of life of residents is not factored in, until the eleventh hour. Whenever possible, it is either avoided completely or else the residents are slowly squeezed out of residential areas.

It has been around four years since parliament approved legislation in order to reinforce the protection of the coastline through the public domain legislation. Environmental NGOs have submitted a list of over twenty sites along the coast which qualify for protection. I am informed that eNGOs have even carried out extensive research on ownership issues related to these sites. It is indeed unfortunate that the Lands Authority and the Planning Authority have ground the whole process to an unacceptable halt as a result rendering legislation ineffective. This applies even in those instances where it is proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that the land in question is public property.

Why approve such laws when there is no intention to implement them?

We need to act to protect what is left of the coast and the coastal areas, before it is too late. Unfortunately, there is no political will to act. Government and its authorities consider the coast and the coastal areas as money spinners. A vision which they pursue relentlessly in bed with the speculators.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 26 March 2023