The Malta Independent 20 October 2019, Sunday

Gozo tunnel ‘should be accompanied by holistic plan ensuring sustainable development’

Sunday, 6 October 2019, 08:30 Last update: about 13 days ago

The Gozo tunnel project should be accompanied by a holistic plan ensuring the sustainable development of the island of Gozo said Gozo Business Chamber President Joseph Borg in an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday during which he was asked about the Chamber’s pre-budget proposals

What are the Gozo Business Chamber’s main proposals for the upcoming budget?

The main proposals of the Gozo Business Chamber for the upcoming budget, which have been presented to the Gozo Regional Committee, include the continuation of the project for the underwater tunnel between Gozo and Malta. The Chamber also proposed that the waste generated by this project should be used for the enlargement of the berthing facilities in Mġarr, Gozo. 

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This project, however, should be accompanied by a holistic plan ensuring the sustainable development of the island including, for example, the retention of the green belts between localities and the preservation of the unique character of each locality. The Chamber believes that the present Outside Development Zones (ODZ) in Gozo should not be touched. Accessibility needs to be accompanied by a sustainable development approach.

There is also a need for better parking facilities to serve Gozo’s retail outlets in Victoria, accompanied by a holistic traffic management plan. Urgent consideration should also be given to the provision of an underground multi-storey parking facility for Victoria.

Another proposal is the introduction of a fourth ferry on a permanent basis.  Solutions for commercial operators should, however, also be included, such as the introduction of a pre-booking system for commercial operators on journeys dedicated solely to commercial vehicles. 

This would offer commercial operators the opportunity to better organise their transportation activities between the two islands.  The Chamber also notes that more dedicated services for commercial operators may need to be considered.

The introduction of the fast ferry service and the introduction of a helicopter service with a schedule that is aligned with all major flights – with charges that do not discourage usage – were two other proposals.

The Chamber also called for the establishment of agencies that complement the work of the Gozo Ministry and positively noted the endeavours to set up the Gozo Regional Development Authority. 

The Chamber is of the opinion that specialised agencies need to be established to complement the work of the Ministry for Gozo, such as Aġenzija Kultura Għawdex, and the provision of an economic development agency. Aġenzija Kultura Għawdex would be a dedicated cultural agency that would ensure the holistic set-up and coordination that is required, given the substantial number and calibre of events that are taking place in Gozo. On the other hand, an economic development agency would take over the work related to the economic measures of the Gozo Ministry but would still be answerable to the Ministry. It would be a one-stop-shop for all the entities related to the economy in Gozo, such as Malta Enterprise, Business First, Trade Malta, etc., and would assist enterprises to foster economic growth through participation in EU projects and consortia. 

Another proposal is that the Gozo Regional Committee within the MCESD should have an allocated budget and permanent representation on the island.

On the subject of Bart’s Medical School and health services, the Chamber notes the positive developments that are taking place in this regard. There should continue to be a strong focus on health services in Gozo to ensure that the necessary level of service is maintained. Community and economic development are interlinked and strong community services, especially in the health sector, will ensure that Gozo continues to proceed in the right direction. The development of the health sector in Gozo should also be seen from the holistic perspective. Apart from the Bart’s Medical School, consideration should also be given to the provision of an area of specialisation in the health sector on which Gozo could eventually focus

The Chamber also called for the extension of existing schemes, such as a reduction in stamp duty for properties purchased in Gozo.

In respect of the University of Malta Gozo Campus, there should be a strategic rethinking of the Gozo Campus with the provision of a specialised faculty at the Campus with courses which will be offered only from Gozo.

 

Are there any issues which need immediate attention?

Accessibility is key to any developments that can take place in Gozo. The provision of a fourth ferry has given Gozo an important economic impetus but this has to be sustained in both the short and the long term. In the short-term, it should see the introduction of a helicopter and a fast ferry service. However, the long-term solution should be the provision of a tunnel between Gozo and Malta.  On the other hand there are other, more urgent, issues such as improved parking facilities in Victoria.


What sectors of investment do you believe would thrive in Gozo? Is the government working to attract these sectors or do you consider that more needs to be done?

I think that the government is providing the right context for attracting new sectors to Gozo – the Bart’s Medical School and the Innovation Hub being concrete examples. Obviously there are limitations on the extent to which the government can assist – determined by such factors as, for example, the extent of the deminimis state aid that can be provided.


What are the main factors affecting business growth in Gozo and what do you recommend should be done in order to improve business growth and opportunities on the island?

As regards business growth, this depends on the general economic climate – which is currently good and which therefore affects us positively. Nevertheless, we must always bear in mind that where Gozitan enterprises are concerned, accessibility is still an important issue and it always involves an increase in costs. As a Chamber, we see that in order for Gozo to continue to grow there must be a permanent link that would not be dependent on weather conditions, and which is independent from the prevailing economic climate.

 

Development in Gozo has been a concern for many, as people like the fact that Gozo is quieter than Malta, is less built up and has more open areas. Is this also a concern for the Gozo Business Chamber?

Yes, this is a matter of concern to the Gozo Business Chamber. In our budget proposals we highlighted the fact that the tunnel project should be accompanied by a holistic plan ensuring the sustainable development of the island of Gozo, such as, for example, retaining the green belts between localities and ensuring that the unique character of each locality is preserved. 

The Chamber believes that the present Outside Development Zones (ODZ) in Gozo should not be touched.  Accessibility needs to be accompanied by a sustainable development approach.


Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana had said that she did not want Gozo to turn into another Malta, with no boundaries between villages. What are your views on this and do you believe a master plan for Gozo is needed? If so, should this master plan focus solely on development or on other aspects as well?

There is a dire need for a master plan for Gozo. This should not focus only on development but should incorporate a traffic management plan and a socio-economic plan, i.e. where we want Gozo to be in a number of years time.

 

A lot of the country’s high-paying businesses, for example iGaming, financial services, etc., are based mainly in Malta. Do you believe that Gozo should attract such businesses and, if so, what needs to be done in order for this to happen. If, however, you think that Gozo should focus on different niches, which ones should these be?

We think that the Government is already providing the right infrastructure. Obviously, Gozo is different from Malta and it can attract business niches which are different. 

For example, if you are referring to MICE (Meeting Incentives Conferences and Events) you cannot speak of large conferences in Gozo.  However, you can attract high level conferences with a limited number of people. The same applies for IT and other sectors. If the right infrastructure is in place, Gozo’s character would lure certain companies to set up here. 

We cannot assume that Gozo would be like Malta –and we would not want it to be. However, accessibility remains an important concern and one that cannot be disregarded, because business people factor in the time it takes to come to Gozo. 


What kind of schemes should government introduce to help Gozitan businesses?

There are already schemes in place which favour Gozo.  However, there are certain considerations such as the deminimis ceiling (i.e. the Government can provide up to €200,000 in state aid to any business entity over a three-year period) which is set by the European Union, which hinders the take-up of such schemes. 

Although certain schemes are positively directed to business entities that are established in Gozo, Gozitan companies will never be on a level playing field with companies that operate from Malta, as there is a specific allocation on which these schemes are formulated that does not distinguish between companies operating from Gozo and those operating from Malta.

Also, the Gozo-Malta transport incentive eats up a substantial part of the three-year €200,000 allocation. In the end, the €200,000 ceiling is the same for everyone – regardless of the advantages provided by the government. 

As a Chamber we are lobbying at EU level for this ceiling to be reconsidered when issues relating to state aid are revised. This year we have the Presidency of INSULEUR (the Insular Chambers of Commerce of the European Union) and during the General Assembly – which will be held in Gozo on 24 October – we will be presenting a paper to be adopted by INSULEUR on the revision of state aid rules to favour islands.

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