The Malta Independent 26 June 2019, Wednesday

Watch: Activists pull down section of fence at Manoel Island, new protest held

Helena Grech Friday, 23 September 2016, 17:17 Last update: about 4 years ago

Saturday 1050am: A sizeable crowd has taken part this morning in yet another protest over access to the Manoel Island foreshore.

Addressing the crowd, Andre Callus from Kamp Emergenza Ambjent (KAE) noted that the government and the Planning Authority had now stepped in but said this was not enough. “We need to keep up the pressure. Court cases can drag on for years. MIDI has taken the law into its own hands but we will keep demanding that public access be restored with immediate effect. We are already making a difference,” he said.  “We are showing that those with money and power will not be allowed to deny us what is ours.”

Gzira Mayor Conrad Borg Manche said 16 years of no access to residents were enough. “They (MIDI) had all the time in the world to fix this. They do not really care about the place. The Lazzaretto still lies in ruins. They only fixed the fort because profits can be made there."

He added that the Gzira local council have requested jurisdiction over Manoel Island, because it currently falls under no entity or local council.

Paul Buttigieg from Harsien Hondoq also addressed the crowd, and said that he is pleased to see strong support for a cause that is in the name of the public. He said with such initiatives, public interest may start to be prioritised. The group was set up in protest of the proposed development at Hondoq ir-Rummien.

Mr Borg Manche said there could never be justification to close down a kilometer of public foreshore. “We are Maltese, this is our country and we have a right to enjoy it.”

They celebrated behind the main gate after gaining access to the area from a side-fence opened by KAE this morning, as depicted below.

In comments to the Malta Independent, Mr Borg Manche said:

“My advice yesterday was that no gate is to be opened. The first time the gate was opened I was part of it and it was necessary, because we would not have been taken seriously.

“Now that the government has taken steps, let’s wait and see how that progresses. In fact, KEA said they will be taking full responsibility for the removal of the gates this morning.”

KAE leader Andre Callus said:

“The action taken by the Government and PA are very positive, and we are extremely satisfied to see that the pressure we have mounted has resulted in concrete action being taken.

“This is not enough because court proceedings can take years – therefore now more than ever we need to keep up the pressure. The court proceedings have not even formally began, and the government has not filed a case. It filed a judicial protest against them (MIDI) – it is the first step and an important one.

“The point is we gave MIDI one week to provide access or we will gain entry. That week has passed and MIDI did not provide access, so we are delivering on our promise.

“Apart from government pressure, it is necessary for the people to keep applying pressure because every day that access is blocked, everyday MIDI are doing something illegal.

Below is the MIDI passage way to the foreshore. MIDI claims that the issue is that the public would have to go over private property (below) to get the coast.

Asked why KAE did not wait for the 16 days provided by the PA through an enforcement notice to provide public access to the foreshore, Mr Callus said that MIDI have a right to appeal, and that each day they do not adhere to the notice they only get slapped with a €4 fine.

“We hope that MIDI will follow the notice, however we need to turn up the pressure because the public has a right to enjoy the foreshore, and we cannot continue to allow powerful entities to do as they please at the expense of the public,” he said.

Present for the protest was Opposition Whip David Agius, together with PN Gzira local councillors.

“Yes I am here as a private citizen and as a representative of the PN together with our local councillors. Obviously we support the opening of the shore to the public. We were in parliament first to promote the public domain bill and we support that the shore here, and all around Malta, is accessible to the public,” said Mr Agius. 

PN Statement

The Nationalist Party has called on a solution to be reached at the earliest with regard to access for the Manoel Island foreshore.

“The solution should be one of common sense in the interest of all Maltese and Gozitans, and not just in the interest of Gzira residents.” 

“This issue can only be resolved if Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, in his capacity as Prime Minister, sits down at a table with the MIDI consortium, that is blocking access, and provides assurances that the interest of all Maltese and Gozitans is being prioritised,” said the PN in a press statement issued this afternoon.

 

PL reacts

The Labour Party said Dr Busuttil was attacking the Gzira Mayor, whow as acting in the interest of the residents. He was also attacking the government, which had been the first to take action and stand up for the residents.

Residents were right to ask why the previous government had done nothing about the issue, the party said. 

Manoel Island should become an Eco-Island says AD

Alternattiva Demokratika Chairperson Prof. Arnold Cassola, said: "It is good to see that the government has taken legal action against MIDI.  There should now be rapid enforcement against the blatant infringements by MIDI.  Alternattiva Demokratika reiterates that Manoel Island should be reclaimed by the government and maintained as an Eco-Island and natural park, with only pedestrian and bicycle
access."



"After the legal action taken against the Manoel Island operators and the tuna fish farm owners, it is now imperative that these measures are enforced as soon as possible, and then extended to other areas
which have been illegally taken over, and sometimes developed, such as Montekristo Estates and Armier."

 

Earlier: Activists from Kamp Emergenza Ambjent this morning pulled down a section of the fence surrounding Manoel Island.

“Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent has this morning re-opened access to Manoel Island, as it committed itself to do last week. We urge the public to attend the planned protest  today at 10:30am,” the group said in a statement.

“MIDI is adamant in denying access to the public and has yesterday reiterated that it has no intention of restoring access and even stated that it will increase fencing around the island. The actions undertaken by Government and the PA are positive but, alone, they will not guarantee access to Manoel Island. Now, more than ever, it is important that people ensure that access is open and that pressure is put on MIDI to stop its illegal behaviour.”

 


Friday: The government is calling on MIDI plc, by way of a judicial protest, to abide by its contract and the laws of Malta and to provide the access to the foreshore at Manoel Island.

The government this afternoon filed a judicial protest filed in the first hall of the Civil Court, through the Office of the Attorney General, charging that MIDI is not sticking to the terms of its contract with the government as it was denying access to parts of the foreshore that are not in possession of the company. 

The government said that while it was all for being pro-business, it would not tolerate illegalities and abuse.

In related news, the Planning Authority has issued MIDI with an enforcement notice ordering the company to immediately remove four gates it had installed without permit.  The PA gave MIDI 16 days to take action or appeal the order.

In the meantime, Kamp Emergenza Ambjent, together with fishermen and with the support of Gzira Mayor Conrad Borg Manche have set sail to the Manoel Island foreshore in protest of its blocked off access by MIDI group.

Police appeared on site and blocked activists at Manoel Island from advancing more than five metres further from the coastline.

KEA have placed a banner on the foreshore, demanding access to the area immediately. A number of activists will be spending the night on the Manoel Island foreshore.

KEA leader Andre Callus said that it is unacceptable for MIDI to exert its power unfairly and deprive the public from being able to enjoy the public space.

"It is a matter of principle," he said.

Asked whether MIDI have taken any legal action against the activists or the Gzira Mayor, both Mr Callus and Mr Borg Manche said that they have no legal basis to take action against them. Mr Borg Manche added that neither him nor KEA have been notified of legal action being taken against them. 

 

Mr Borg Manche stated that there will be no forced entry to the foreshore, however in view of the judicial protest filed by the government calling on MIDI plc to provide access to the area in question, it remains unclear whether the protest planned for tomorrow morning will be taking place. 

MIDI reacts

In an eight-point statement, MIDI said that while it has no problem with public access to the foreshore, but it does have an issue with the public accessing private property held by the company for the last 16 years.

MIDI explains:

“1.  The legal position at the basis of this issue is predicated on the confusion of two separate issues. Midi has absolutely no issue whatsoever with the public having access to the foreshore. This is a matter of public policy, and members of the public have regularly landed on the foreshore to swim or fish throughout Midi's tenure of the island. The core issue is whether, given the inaccessibility of the foreshore from Gzira, the public has the right of passage over private property held by Midi for the last 16 years.

“Hence the issue which has now been raised is not whether Midi has denied public access to the foreshore but whether the public has the right to access the foreshore over private property belonging to Midi. 

“2 Midi has always been advised that it is totally within its rights to prevent such access. The matter has now been taken up by the Attorney General, who has just sent a judicial protest to this effect. Midi contends that this is being based on a clause relating to the post-construction and not the earlier phase. A counter-protest will be filed on Mon 26 Sep. An article was also carried in a section of the press stating that such right of access emanates from the Outline Development Permit issued by the Planning Authority. However, the grant in question is governed by the deed of emphteusis, and no permit can automatically give legal rights to access over private land.

“3.  The problem arises in that there is no direct land access to the 5 metre foreshore shown marked in green, for reasons of geography. Indeed the accesses are blocked on one side by the Manoel Island Yacht Yard (marked in yellow), which does not belong to Midi, and on the other by the Lazzaretto (marked in brown), which is still unsafe and in any case part of it has no foreshore. Hence the issue which has now been raised is not whether Midi has denied public access to the foreshore but whether the public has the right to access the foreshore over private property belonging to Midi. 

 


“4.  Midi is currently in negotiations with Government, as grantor, to unilaterally allow pedestrian access over its private by members of the public during daytime, provided Midi is aware of who is entering and exiting. It will also be erecting fences around the entire island (once it receives Planning Authority permits) to prevent trespassing over its private property to heritage sites, and other areas which are not yet safe for unrestricted private access. Of course, once the development has been completed, Midi plans to have a park plus various areas of public accessibility, much as now exists at Tigne Point, where the public piazza and underground road were constructed by Midi, as part of its obligations under the deed.

“5   The decision to develop Manoel Island was not Midi’s. In 1992 the Government of Malta, through the then Malta Development Corporation, issued a call for expressions of interest, for the development of Tigné Point and Manoel Island. Midi was selected as the preferred bidder, and after long negotiations with both Nationalist and Labour-led governments, the deed of emphyteusis was finally passed by Parliament with the unanimous approval by BOTH sides of the House in 2000. Midi now has the obligation to develop the island, in line with the provisions of this deed, by 2023.

“6    Midi acquired a large part of Manoel Island under the title of emphyteusis. The boundaries are outlined in red in the attached plan. It immediately opened the area shaded in blue, to the public. This area has never been maintained or cleaned by Gzira Local Council, as was its right since the Local Councils Act specifically excludes Manoel Island from the jurisdiction of any local council.

“7.  The Gzira Local Council, as already stated, in line with the Local Council Act has no competence over Manoel Island, and hence all discussions must be undertaken with Government. Despite the forced and unlawful entry as well as populist and misleading statements issued by the Gzira Local Council, when the Mayor contacted Midi's CEO requesting a meeting, this was immediately acceded to. Midi has heard what they have to say and will seek to cooperate with them, as good neighbours.  Midi reiterates its position that the continuous protests, clean ups, and other activities organised by Kamp Emergenza Ambjent supported by the Gzira Local Council with declarations that they are ready to resort to forced entry if access is not granted are not conducive to reaching a solution and only serve to incite violent conduct and vandalism.

“8.  Finally, there have also been incorrect statements made in the media that Midi has amounts outstanding with Government. Midi categorically states that it has always paid its dues to Government (and all other creditors for that matter) and there are no amounts currently outstanding to Government. 

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