Gozo Channel: tunnelling discounts



When the current Gozo Channel tunnel debate was initiated around five years ago, the then Minister Chris Said went on record to emphasise that the proposed tunnel, to be bored under the seabed would cost approximately €150 million. This estimate has now been upped to €300 million.

This is one of the basic assumptions underlying the study commissioned by Transport Malta, together with the Gozo Business Chamber, and carried out by E Cubed Consultants Ltd, commonly referred to as the “economic and financial feasibility study”.

The study makes interesting reading as it considers the economics of the so-called permanent link between the islands of Gozo and Malta. I respectfully submit that the conclusions of this study are as valid as the basic assumptions which underpin it.

I draw the attention of readers to the fact that proposals for various tunnels are currently under consideration in other countries.

The first is the proposed Trans-Pennine tunnel, intended to improve the transport links between Sheffield and Manchester in the UK. The ambitious 18- mile (29km) tunnel would be built under the A628 Woodhead Pass. After having established that the geology of the Pennines was suitable for such a project, it was estimated that the approximate cost would be a staggering £6 billion (€8.40 billion).

The second UK project is the much-debated and controversial tunnel at Stonehenge. Intended to upgrade the A303 road, it is projected to have a length of 1.8 miles (2.9 km) and is currently estimated to cost £490 million (€700 million).

Another projected tunnel, recently given the green light, will pass between the Danish island of Lolland and the German island of Fehmarn. Construction work on this 19 km tunnel should start next January and it is estimated to cost €8.7 billion.

The estimates for the proposed tunnels in the United Kingdom indicate that the cost of a 10 km tunnel would exceed the €2 billion mark, even before taking into account the fact that excavating below the seabed would cost substantially more. In addition, the Danish/German tunnel indicates a pro-rata cost of €4.7 billion for a 10 kilometre tunnel.

In addition, the geological parameters below the Gozo Channel are still largely unknown: geological studies have to be carried out and examined in detail in order to establish the facts. Without these facts, the basic information necessary to take essential design decisions is still unavailable. What is known is worrying enough: the presence of active geological faults running right through the proposed route of the tunnel.

The study’s conclusions – that the proposed tunnel is economically viable – have  been reached prior to the carrying out of geological studies. Even the estimated costs used in the economic viability study have been established before these essential geological studies.

In this type of project, no estimate of costs can be precise – especially if it is not based on adequate and essential information.

This indicates that the conclusion of the economic viability study was premature.

In addition to the geological studies, additional important (and essential) studies have (as far as is known) not yet been commissioned. These include studies on the environmental impact, business impact and social impact.

Once concluded, such studies will inevitably point to other issues that will require detailed consideration, including the extent to which the projected permanent link between Malta and Gozo will toll the death knell for holiday accommodation in Gozo: hotels, flats and farmhouses.

The above indicates that, unless the promoters of the tunnel have some cast-iron guarantee of substantial discounts on the costs, the proposal is a non-starter even before any consideration of the environmental, business and social impact. It is about time to begin serious work on the practical alternative: a fast ferry service between Gozo and the Grand Harbour.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2015

Tunnel vision



Gozo’s connectivity issues are considered as a problem when in reality they define Gozo and determine its distinct features. Unfortunately, in this respect both the government and the opposition have developed a tunnel vision, that is they tend to focus on just one view and ignore everything else.

The latest twist in the current debate is the declaration by the Finance Minister in his budget statement earlier this month that the feasibility study commissioned by Transport Malta, together with the Gozo Business Chamber has been concluded positively  and that the next step would be  the commissioning of a technical and geological study relative to the projected tunnel across the Gozo Channel.

Transport Malta, prodded by the Gozo Business Chamber, seems to be bent on putting the cart before the horse as it is inconceivable how a feasibility study could be concluded without first having identified all the geological issues and examined them in detail.  Knowing that the Gozo Channel contains a number of geological faults, including active ones, leads to the logical preliminary conclusion that geological studies of the area proposed to be tunnelled could have a substantial bearing on the technical parameters of the project. This would include the specific  route to be selected, the actual works to be carried out and the costings. The geological studies could also lead to a technical recommendation to select an alternative solution other than boring a tunnel below the seabed .

When the PN-led government placed the issue on the national agenda, former Minister Chris Said gave his guesstimate that the tunnel would cost in the region of €150 million. We have recently been informed that this guesstimate has increased substantially to between €250 and €300 million.

These guesstimates are on the low side, because when the geological issues have been examined the estimate could well shoot up to over €1 billion- this being around 4 times what has been taken into consideration in the so-called “feasibility study”.

These type of project very rarely follow estimated costs. The tunnel linking the Marsa and Delimara powers stations in Malta, for example, overshot its projected costs by around 100% due to the absence of adequate geological information. As a result, parts of the  tunnel caved in during works, necessitating substantial additional work, including redirecting parts of it. On the other hand,  expenditure on the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles near Calais exceeded the projected estimates by around 80% notwithstanding the availability of detailed geological studies.

Last week, one of the Sunday newspapers referred to a survey carried out by the Gozo Tourism Association which indicates that 64% of tourism operators in Gozo are adamantly against the proposed tunnel because the direct result of this would be to render Gozo as an appendage of Malta. Gozo would be transformed into a one- day destination, just like most of the other tourism attractions spread over the Maltese islands.

Gozitan tourism operators have a very valid point, as the direct result of this tunnel vision is that Gozo would be transformed from an island into a remote village. Most hotels in Gozo as well as the flats and farmhouses available to let, could then require the identification of another use.

This matter has not yet been examined and yet it is fundamental to the decision-making process and should have been the first step in the whole exercise.

All this muddle and I have not yet commenced discussing the environmental impacts of the proposed tunnel!

The tunnel will generate large quantities of rock which require disposal. The precise amount would depend on the route to be followed (and consequently the length of the tunnel) as well as the selected design (the cross sectional area) and could be anything between one and two million cubic metres of fragmented rock.

In addition, the proposed point of entry of the tunnel at Iċ-Ċumnija on the outskirts of Mellieħa, would most probably be accessed through a new road network in the area immediately behind the Għadira Nature Reserve and bird sanctuary. This means that all the environmental issues which were discussed when the proposed TEN-T network was being debated will once more be of relevance.

There are many other ways through which Gozo’s connectivity issues can be addressed and there are certainly more cost effective ways than the proposed tunnel. The costs to be considered are not just financial: they include social and environmental costs, which should be considered on the drawing board and not as an afterthought.

This is the problem with the tunnel vision – you just have one view, excluding all the others.

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex



Ma nafx jekk il-Ministru tal-Finanzi kienx jaf x’inhu jgħid meta qal li l-feasibility study “ikkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Gozo Business Chamber” dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex kien lest. Imbagħad fis-sentenza ta’ wara jgħidilna li l-pass li jmiss issa huwa l-istudju tekniku u ġeoloġiku dwar il-mina.

Il-mistoqsija toħroġ waħedha: kif tista’ tagħmel feasibility study sura, jiġifieri studju dwar jekk jaqbilx li jsir il-proġett, meta għadek ma lestejtx l-iktar studju importanti: dak ġeoloġiku.

Dan ilu żmien jingħad minn kull min jaf l-affarijiet.

Jiena ktibt dwar dan kważi ħames snin ilu.

Iktar importanti milli ktibt jien, illum tkellem mat-Times il-ġeoloġista Peter Gatt. Tkellem ukoll mat-Times nhar it-3 ta’ Frar 2011.

Dr Peter Gatt jispjega fit-Times tal-lum għaliex qabel ma jsir l-istudju ġeoloġiku ma tista’ tikkonkludi xejn. Dan l-istudju hu “a vital first step”. Dan minħabba li l-istudju ġeoloġiku, jekk isir sewwa, jidentifika l-problemi ġeoloġiċi fuq ir-rotta li tkun ser titħaffer. Min-naħa l-oħra, jispjega Dr Gatt, jekk l-istudju ma jsirx, jew ma jsirx sewwa l-ispejjes tal-proġett jimmoltiplikaw. Kif ġara, jgħidilna Dr Gatt, fil-mina bejn Delimara u l-Marsa [bejn iż-żewġ power stations] li swiet id-doppju ta’ dak ippjanat minħabba li, billi ma kienx hemm informazzjoni ġeoloġika adegwata f’idejn min fassal il-proġett, kien hemm kollass tal-blat f’diversi partijiet tal-mina.

Dr Gatt isemmi l-eżempju tal-istudju ġeoloġiku li sar bi preparazzjoni għaċ-Channel Tunnel bejn l-Ingilterra u Franza. Dan l-istudju dam 50 sena biex sar u minkejja dan, l-ispiża taċ-Channel Tunnel xorta varjat bi 80% mill-istima oriġinali.

Meta wieħed iqis dan kollu ma nafx x’feasibility study sar!

Qalulna ukoll (mhux fil-baġit) li l-mina ser tiġi tiswa madwar €250 miljun. Meta tqis l-ispejjes li jistgħu jkunu meħtieġa minħabba l-kundizzjonijiet ġeoloġiċi taħt il-Fliegu bejn Malta u Għawdex, naħseb li din l-istima hi baxxa ħafna. Fil-fatt jiena fl-artiklu tiegħi tal-2011 kont għidt li probabbilment li l-ispiża tkun bejn €1 biljun u €1.5 biljun. Dan kont ibbażajtu fuq l-ispiża stmata għall-mina bejn il-gżira Daniża ta’ Lolland u l-gżira Ġermaniża ta’ Fehmarn li kienet qed tkun diskussa f’dak iż-żmien. Għalkemm dawn huma stimi imma xorta hemm diskrepanza kbira li mhiex ġustfikata.

Hemm dawn il-problemi kollha u għandna ma bdejniex nitkellmu dwar impatti ambjentali, li minnhom hemm bosta.

Il-mina, biex issir, ser tiġġenera kwantità kbira ta’ blat imqatta. Dan ivarja skond id-diżinn u jista’ jammonta sa żewġ miljun metri kubi ta’ blat. Hemm ukoll is-siti Natura 2000 li qegħdin viċin ħafna taż-żona fejn ser tiżbokka l-mina fl-inħawi taċ-Ċumnija limiti tal-Mellieħa.

Imma l-feasibility study lest, qalilna l-Ministru!

Il-pont taċ-Ċiniżi bejn Malta u Għawdex

Chinese bridge


It-Times u l-Independent irrappurtaw li ġie konkluż l-istudju taċ-Ċiniżi dwar il-pont bejn Malta u Għawdex.  Hu stmat li biex dan jinbena jiġi jiswa’ biljun euro bħala spiża kapitali kif ukoll spiża addiżżjonali ta’ madwar €4 miljuni fis-sena għaż-żamma tiegħu.

L-ispiża finanzjarja hi kbira, pero din mhux l-unika spiża għax magħha trid tiżdied ukoll l-ispiża ambjentali u l-ispiża soċjali.

Qabel l-elezzjoni kellna fil-media l-proposta l-oħra ta’ mina taħt il-baħar liema proposta diġa ktibt dwarha diversi drabi. Meta qiest xogħol simili li kien ser isir fid-Danimarka jiena kont ikkalkulajt li mina bħal din kellha tiġi tiswa’ bejn €1 biljun u €1.5 biljun, bejn sitta u għaxar darbiet l-istima ta’ kelliema tal-Gvern immexxi mill-PN. Din il-mina trid tiffaċċa ukoll problemi ġeoloġiċi u area taflija kbira fil-Fliegu. Dan apparti bejn miljun u nofs u żewġ miljuni kubi ta’ blat li jkun jeħtieġ li jitqatta’.

Hemm il-possibilita teknika ta’ diversi proposti oħra.

Il-qagħda attwali, jiġifieri li Għawdex hu maqtugħ għalih bħala gżira hemm bosta li jikkonsidrawh bħala ta’ benefiċċju (asset) filwaqt li oħrajn iqiesu dan il-fatt bħala problema (liability).

Għawdex bħala gżira għandha diversi karatteristiċi li jagħmluha unika bħala destinazzjoni. Għawdex b’kuntatt dirett u permanenti bħall-bridge jew mina ma jkun xejn differenti għat-turist minn kwalunkwe raħal f’Malta.  Dan jista’ jeffettwa sostanzjalment l-industrija tat-turiżmu b’mod partikolari l-lukandi f’Għawdex.

Diversi li ġejjin u sejrin bejn Malta u Għawdex iħarsu b’mod differenti lejn in-nuqqas ta’ aċċess faċli bejn il-gżejjer. Għalihom is-serviżż tal-vapuri eżistenti mhux aċċettabbli, u għandhom raġun.

Is-soluzzjoni għal dan kollu mhux li noqgħodu nfajjru l-proposti fl-ajru. Is-soluzzjoni tinstab f’analiżi tal-alternattivi kollha. Analiżi li trid tindirizza l-impatti kollha biex id-diskussjoni pubblika tkun waħda infurmata. L-impatti li jridu jkunu indirizzati huma dawk ekonomiċi, ambjentali u soċjali. Jinkludu mhux biss l-ispiża meħtieġa imma ukoll l-impatt fuq l-ekonomija Għawdxija, kif ukoll l-impatti ambjentali fuq l-art u l-baħar, ewlenin fosthom dawk viżivi kif ukoll dawk ekoloġiċi. L-impatti soċjali fuq Għawdex tal-proposti differenti jeħtieġ li jkunu indirizzati b’mod metikoluż.

Għandna bżonn soluzzjoni li tkun waħda sostenibbli. Biex dan isir irridu nagħżlu dik il-proposta li ssaħħaħ l-ekonomija Għawdxija filwaqt li ftit li xejn tagħmel ħsara ambjentali u soċjali.

Nistennew l-informazzjoni kollha li tkun pubblika. Anke ir-rapport tal-pont Ċiniż għandu jkun wieħed pubbliku. S’issa għadu m’huwiex pubbliku għax huma l-gazzetti biss li rawh.

Meta naraw dan kollu imbagħad tkun tista’ issir diskussjoni serja.


Ara ukoll fuq dan il-blog:

The right link that remains missing. 12 ta’ Frar 2012

Għawdex Tagħna lkoll. 16 ta’ Ġunju 2013.


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 

Għawdex tagħna ilkoll?

The Gozo Channel

Reggħet bdiet id-diskussjoni dwar il-konnettivita’ ta’ Għawdex.

Bridge jew mina? Ajruplan jew ħelikopter? Ajruplan li jtir mill-baħar (amphibian) jew wieħed li jtir mill-art?

Kull proposta li saret għandha l-merti tagħha. Kull waħda tindirizza xi aspett partikolari tas-sitwazzjoni Għawdxija. Ma ngħidx problema apposta, għax il-qagħda attwali m’hiex problematika għal kulħadd. Uħud iħarsu lejn is-sitwazzjoni preżenti bħala waħda problematika. Oħrajn iħarsu lejn is-soluzzjonijiet proposti bħala l-problemi reali.

Il-mistoqsija li ftit qed jistaqsu hi jekk il-qagħda attwali hiex waħda ta’ benefiċċju għal Għawdex. Jiġifieri l-fatt li Għawdex hi gżira maqtugħa għaliha waħeda hu ta’ ġid jew ta’ ħsara għal Għawdex?  Rajt kumment wieħed biss f’dan is-sens online. Korrispondent Irlandiż li jkun spiss Ghawdex ikkummenta online li l-insularita doppja ta’ Għawdex hi iktar opportunuta (asset) milli problema (liability).

Ovvjament mhux kulħadd jaqbel ma dan. Imma hemm setturi bħat-turiżmu f’Għawdex li huma mibnija prinċipalment fuq din il-karatteristika Għawdxija. Għawdex bħala gżira għandha diversi karatteristiċi li jagħmluha unika bħala destinazzjoni. Bidla li telimina din il-karatteristika tidfen għal kollox l-identita’ unika Għawdxija. Għawdex b’kuntatt dirett bħall-bridge jew mina ma jkun xejn differenti għat-turist mis-Siġġiewi, miz-Żurrieq jew minn Marsaskala.  Dan jista’ jeffettwa sostanzjalment l-industrija tat-turiżmu b’mod partikolari l-lukandi f’Għawdex.

Min-naħa l-oħra l-industrija tal-manifattura għandha bżonn aċċess immedjat għas-swieq tagħha u f’dan is-sens kuntatt dirett bħall-bridge jew mina jista’ jkun soluzzjoni kemm għall-industrija li hemm illum ġewwa Għawdex kif ukoll għal dik li tista’ titħajjar tibbaża ruħa f’Għawdex għada. L-istess jgħidu l-istudenti u dawk li jaħdmu f’Malta.

Il-konsumatur Għawdxi jieħu pjaċir b’aċċess dirett bħall-bridge jew mina għax tinfetħilhom l-għażla b’aċċess dirett u immedjat għall-ħwienet fit-tramuntana ta’ Malta. Imma naħseb li ħafna minn dawk li huma fil-kummerċ f’Għawdex ma jaħsbuwiex l-istess.

Is-soluzzjoni iżda m’hiex waħda li noqgħodu nfajjru l-proposti fl-ajru. Is-soluzzjoni tinstab fil-kalma u l-ħsieb, mhux kwalitajiet komuni ħafna fost dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet f’dan il-pajjiż – kemm dawk tal-lum kif ukoll dawk tal-bierah.

Ikun ahjar li flok mal-Gvern jiffoka fuq proposti individwali jara l-istampa kollha tal-konnettivita ta’ Ghawdex u l-impatti socjali, ambjentali u ekonomici b’mod olistiku. Jeħtieġ li niżnu sew l-affarijiet. Li naraw l-istampa kollha.

Il-Gvern tal-lum bħall-Gvern tal-bieraħ jaqbad il-problema minn sieqha.

Flok ma jkunu indirizzati waħda waħda, s-soluzzjonijiet taħt konsiderazzjoni għandhom ikunu kkunsidrati flimkien u dan fil-kuntest ta’ Pjan Strateġiku li jindirizza l-konnettivita’ tal-gżira Għawdxija u l-impatti soċjali, ekonomiċi u ekoloġiċi ta’ kull waħda mill-proposti. Ma jaghmilx sens  fil-kuntest tal-politika regjonali tal-Unjoni Ewropeja l-Gvern Malti jipprezenta posizzjoni u jinsisti għal fondi addizzjonali minħabba l-insularita’ doppja  u li imbagħad mingħajr konsiderazzjoni tal-impatti (ekonomiċi, soċjali u ekoloġiċi) jagħzel  li jelimina din l-insularita’ doppja b’għaqda fiżika bejn il-gżejjer. Għandu jkun innutat li l-politika tat-Turiżmu għal Għawdex hi bbażata fuq l-insularita doppja tal-gżira Għawdxija u li l-għaqda fiżika proposta tista’ tfisser id-daqqa tal-mewt ghat-turiżmu f’Għawdex.

Pjan Strateġiku ta’ din ix-xorta wara li jkun eżaminat skond il-proċeduri stabiliti mid-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar il-Valutazzjoni  Strateġika Ambjentali (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive) għandu imbagħad ikun soġġett għal konsultazzjoni pubblika mhux biss f’Għawdex iżda fuq livell nazzjonali.

Għax anke Għawdex, tagħna lkoll.

Ara ukoll :

Fuq dan il-blog: The right link that remains missing. 12 ta’ Frar 2012

Malta Today: Gozo’s connectivity issues should be tackled holistically. 16 ta’ Ġunju 2013

The right link that remains missing

The proposal by Franco Mercieca (Minding Our Gap, The Sunday Times, January 23) and Parliamentary Secretary Chris Said (Light At The End Of The Tunnel, The Times, January 31) to permanently link Malta and Gozo need to be considered in a strategic context.

Various proposals have been discussed throughout the years addressing Gozo’s double insularity. While the difficulties encountered by Gozitans to cross the channel are to be addressed it has to be underlined that if a permanent link is introduced it may have various other effects in addition to addressing mobility between the islands.

None of the proposals has assessed whether Gozo’s isolation is a positive feature, which, once lost, will never be regained.

Once Gozo is permanently linked with the mainland it will be an integral part of it, for better or worse. In particular, one would have to consider whether a permanent link would impact negatively the contribution of tourism towards the Gozitan economy.

Certainly, with an easier access, Gozitan consumers could tap the retail outlets of northern Malta. With Dr Said being responsible for consumer protection this could be an added bonus.

Whether the proposal is a bridge or a tunnel, a land based or an amphibious airplane. all come at a cost and leave considerable impacts. Costs are not just economic but social and environmental too.

A tunnel excavated below the seabed will undoubtedly eliminate visual intrusion into the Comino and Ċirkewwa landscape but it will certainly cause another rubble mountain resulting from excavating through at least six kilometres of rock under the seabed as well as additional kilometres to create the tunnel’s points of access on land. This rubble mountain could be anything between 1.5 and two million cubic metres of excavated rock depending on the actual design of the tunnel and its selected route.

The experience of various Nordic countries has been mentioned. At the time of writing a similar project has just been approved by the Danish Parliament to link the Danish island of Lolland to Fehmarn, a German island. Both islands are already linked through bridges to their respective countries. When finalised, this project would reduce the duration of a rail journey between Hamburg and Copenhagen by 33 per cent, from 4.5 hours to three hours. The tunnel will be 18 kilometres long. Works are projected to commence in 2014 and will take about six years to conclude. Costs are estimated to be in the region of 32 billion kroner, that is €4.2 billion. The projected tunnel across the Fehmarn strait will not be of the excavated type but prefabricated sections will be laid on the seabed.

The costs of these types of projects are indicative as there are a lot of variables involved. The Channel Tunnel between England and France, for example, overshot its final estimates based on actual designs by over 80 per cent.

Geologist Peter Gatt, commenting on The Times (February 3), pointed out that the Gozo Channel’s geology is riddled with faults. In addition, he pointed out there are areas of the seabed around Comino where clay abounds. This, it was pointed out, compounds the issue of expenses relative to civil engineering solutions, which have to be based on a thorough examination of the geology of the Gozo Channel.

There are a large number of caves in the areas. In addition, as pointed out by marine biologists, the Gozo Channel contains various marine protected areas.

On the basis of the above, it would seem the cost of the projected tunnel would be substantially higher than the €150 million guesstimate of Dr Said. The Fehmarn strait projected tunnel costings point towards an estimate of between €1 billion and €1.5 billion for the Gozo Channel tunnel, that is between six and 10 times the Said guesstimate. This estimate could become more precise when all the constraints, foremost being those of a geological and environmental nature, have been identified.

The government is unfortunately approaching the issue of identifying the suitable missing link between Malta and Gozo in a very amateurish and populist manner. It has so far failed to produce a strategy addressing the interlinking of transport between Gozo and the north of Malta. When such a strategy has been produced it should be subjected to a strategic assessment as laid down by the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the European Union. The social, environmental and economic impacts of the various options on both Malta as a whole and Gozo as a region would thus have been identified and analysed.

The necessary decision can then be taken in the interest of the whole community.

It has to be clear to all that if we are to arrive at a solution in identifying the suitable missing link the populist approach utilised so far should be discarded.

Published in The Times of Malta, February 12, 2011