eNGOs call upon PA for a revised EIA on Manoel Island

Updated 08:19 PM

MIDI emphasises commitment to developing island

14 eNGOs are calling for a fresh Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA, to tackle the shortcomings noted in the annulled report regarding the development permit for the development of Manoel Island.

During a press conference on Saturday the NGOs explained how in June 2020 the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) upheld an appeal by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar against Outline Development Permit PA 9407/17 for the development of Manoel Island. This was on the grounds that one of the consultants engaged by MIDI plc to conduct the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had been engaged repeatedly by MIDI plc on its Manoel Island projects which constitutes a major conflict of interest.

As a consequence of this conflict of interest the tribunal declared the EIA report to be null and void  and demanded that the EIA report had to be submitted afresh.

The NGOs liested the number of shortcomings there were:

  • Lack of a Health Impact Assessment.  The proposed project will increase traffic congestion along the Strand exacerbating the serious traffic problem. Additionally, reclamation of land for the Yacht yard will bring the toxic materials of its industrial area much closer to people’s homes
  • The traffic count was not carried out, yet estimates were presented for the years 2025 – 2030.  These traffic generation estimates were calculated at 80% below the standard recommended by the PA circular 1/15, therefore traffic at the junction has not been correctly estimated and an air quality report cannot be drawn up accurately
  • No study was made on the impact of expected 20,000 trips of heavily laden trucks passing through Gzira transporting excavation rubble.   MIDI themselves admit that the trucks to be used are old and heavily polluting; while this is ‘temporary’ the medical problems triggered by pollution are life-long and life-threatening
  • Lack of a Social Impact Assessment.  SIAs are now recommended by the Planning Authority guidelines.  It is to be pointed out that Foster + Partners, MIDI’s architects, stated that the project will bring gentrification to Gzira, driving up property prices
  • The flawed visual impact assessment did not assess the huge impact on the Gzira waterfront by the proposed land reclamation, the new larger and higher bridge, the large roundabout to be built at ix-Xatt and the destruction of the widest part of the Gzira promenade – the only open space for social gatherings in Gzira
  • The views across the harbour from Gzira towards Valletta and the Floriana bastions will be blocked, yet while the lesser impact on Valletta views from Sliema and Ta’ Xbiex was shown, the Visual Impact Assessment ignored the significant impact on views from Gżira to Valletta
  • The removal of the only slipway in the whole of Sliema and Lazzaretto creek: the facilities for yacht owners are being expanded at the expense of small boat owners and amateur fishermen
  • The land reclamation and the construction of a breakwater are expected to increase wave activity in Sliema creek and especially in Gżira 
  • Archaeological deposits and features, particularly ancient underwater rock-cut features that are also significant indicators of sea-level change, are threatened by the proposed works and have not been properly evaluated
  • Additionally, the seabed along the Lazzaretto is characterized by a long history of dumping of cultural material, reflecting the lifespan of the Lazzaretto
  • Systematic surveying and excavation PRIOR to granting any permit is the only way to safeguard the archaeological potential there and around the entire island and offshore areas. Simply monitoring underwater dredging works would be completely inadequate, and would risk losing a huge amount of archaeological evidence

The environment and heritage groups note that the revised outline planning permission PA 9407/17 that was approved on the basis of the nullified EIA is also null, and so are the full development permits that were granted by virtue of the same outline permit, as well as any procedures regarding other pending full development applications conducted to date for the same site.

The eNGOs are therefore calling upon the Planning Authority to reassure the public that, in light of the Tribunal’s ruling, all these permits and applications pursuant to the nullified EIA have also been nullified, and that the respective applications will need to be subjected afresh to the full scrutiny of the planning process, including the public consultation periods established at law.

The groups reiterate that this is not a choice between the 1999 and the 2019 Masterplan.  Both plans are detrimental to the heritage and environment of the whole North Harbour Area as well as to the well-being of residents living there, also due to cementification of Malta’s scant unbuilt land and the destruction of trees which has already begun.

This campaign is about retaining Manoel Island as a green oasis of peace and tranquillity in the centre of Malta’s overdeveloped and overpopulated area of Msida, Gzira, Ta’ Xbiex, Sliema, St Julian’s, San Gwann and Swieqi. A parliamentary petition promoted by Inħobbu l-Gżira gathered almost 10,000 signatures in a short period of time, both online and on paper. 

The 14 eNGOs are: The Archaeological Society Malta, BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Grow 10 Trees, Inħobbu l-Gżira, Isles of the Left, Moviment Graffitti, ORCA, Ramblers Association of Malta, ROTA and Tuna Artna Lura.

MIDI remains committed to developing island

In a reaction to the statement, MIDI emphasised that the application for an outline development permit may resume at the stage immediately prior to the submission of the EIA, stating that the EIA coordinator was in the process of concluding a fresh assessment which would include the commissioning of a new cultural heritage report and an update of other studies.

While the NGOs flagged shortcomings within the EIA, MIDI emphasised that the EPRT’s ruling was limited to the conflict of interest issue.

MIDI also poured cold water over the NGOs’ suggestion for a public park, noting that it acquired the concession with an obligation to develop the island. But it emphasised that the planned development included “a green public park measuring in excess of 80,000sqm, significant open public spaces, a full size football pitch for use by Gżira United FC and a boċċi pitch for local enthusiasts.

“MIDI remains committed to the development of Manoel Island and will continue to work closely with the Gzira Local Council, the Manoel Island Foundation and other NGOs to engage in meaningful dialogue to ensure that the interests of the local community and the wider public are safeguarded,” the company said.