GBC reiterates its position in favour of permanent link

Holding a referendum on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel would be a “short-term quick solution” and should not be considered at all, the Gozo Business Chamber (GBC) CEO has said.

Daniel Borg outlined his position when asked by the Voice of the Workers Weekly on the Chamber’s position in the wake of the PN’ proposal to hold a referendum and the recent statement by the Gozo Tourism Association which said that a permanent link would not be necessary if the existing services would be complement by an airlink.

“Given the long road that such a project has gone, and its intricacies that this involves, having a referendum represents a short-term quick solution.  If the project is to be rejected this needs to be done on the further studies that need to be conducted, once the first stage of the evaluation of the pre-qualification questionnaire is conducted.  This is a project which has kept its momentum, and which has already gone through a number of stages,” the GBC CEO remarked.

According to a recent Times of Malta survey public opinion on this project is split down the middle, with 41.6 per cent in agreement and 38.8 per cent against. In his remarks Borg questioned whether it would have been better if the findings of the studies carried out so far had been been given more prominence.

The GBC CEO said it was essential to have consensus on this long-term project while pointing out that in April 2019 a parliamentary motion in favour of a permanent link had been unanimously approved by Government and Opposition. However, he noted that one form of transport does not necessarily exclude the other. Moreover, at present if there is an issue at either terminal in Mgarr or Cirkewwa, Gozo becomes isolated.

“These are concerns which need to be taken into account, including the pollution that is being emitted through the present ferries, and the size of the current port of Mġarr, which is already showing signs of strain because it cannot accommodate all the services that are being operated through it,” he said.

“The permanent link would give the necessary peace of mind to anyone who would like to settle permanently in Gozo be it for personal or business reasons.  The Chamber believes that while the permanent link is not the overall solution to Gozo’s issues it would assist in the establishment of new value added economic niches on the island,” the CEO added.

From an economic perspective, Borg noted that the permanent link would contribute for Gozo having to diversify its economy which at present is “over reliant” on tourism, construction and real estate.

One of the major concerns on the proposed permanent link is the environmental scar which this project could have on Gozo’s unique landscape. According to the proposals presented so far the tunnel would have an entrance in the rural area of Limbordin in the Pwales Valley in Malta and one below the Ta’ Kenuna Tower in Nadur. Moreover, the project is being criticised on the grounds that it could accelerate the already alarming rate of development on the sister island.

Confronted by these concerns, the Chamber CEO insisted such project does not imply environmental degradation. He backed his argument citing the recently-inaugurated Eysturoy tunnel in the Faroe Islands which stretches over 11 kilometres. Despite its size the project has had minimal impact in what is a very environmentally sensitive zone.

As for the threat which a permanent link would pose for more development on virgin land, the GBC said that this “untenable” situation had already been reached without the project in place.

“Excessive development in Gozo is happening now and this is not in any way linked to the permanent link, but to the present blanket policies where the element of planning is missing,” he said.  The CEO added that the Chamber had already presented various solutions through a position paper, some of which were reiterated in its pre-budget document.

These include better incentives for Gozitan residents to shift to electric vehicles, reduced ferry tickets for Maltese residents crossing over to Gozo with electric vehicles and shifting Gozo’s public transport system to smaller, and more frequent electric buses while larger buses would be deployed on the main routes only.

The GBC is also proposing to initiate the process for the development of an air link between Gozo and Malta and the continuation with the implementation of the project on the permanent link between Gozo and Malta.

As for the environment, the GBC is proposing schemes targeting renovation of old houses while making them more energy efficient. Moreover, it is calling for tax reductions in case of properties which are acquired for renovation rather than redevelopment into apartment blocks.