The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

Church Environment Commission urges government not to adopt ‘tunnel vision’ on Malta-Gozo link

Thursday, 6 February 2020, 17:03 Last update: about 19 days ago

The Interdiocesan Environment Commission (KA) said it is disappointed that the Government has not yet published all the studies that were carried out on the Malta-Gozo tunnel. The Church’s environment commission said it believes that there is no reliable information in the public domain to make a solid analysis of the possible alternatives which would truly improve the accessibility between the islands.

“The KA expects that a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) of the various alternatives options to the tunnel for vehicular transit is carried out and published in its entirety. These options include a fast ferry service, an additional ship for Gozo Channel line, a completely new fleet for Gozo Channel Co.Ltd and an underground rail system (as suggested by the Gozo Tourism Association) which would form part of a national system of mass transit for the Maltese Islands.”

The KA said the tunnel is being presented as the sole solution for improved accessibility and that a similar situation had happened years ago when the gold courses were deemed “indispensable” for the future of Malta’s tourism industry. “These projects did not materialize, time passed and the disasters that were forecast to befall the tourism industry and the Maltese economy did not occur.”

The commission said it is disappointed that the fourth Gozo Channel vessel is not accessible to all, in spite of promises made that the vessel was to be withdrawn from service for some time to improve its accessibility.

“It is unacceptable that persons with a disability, elderly people who cannot make use of the stairs and those who suffer from asthma are presented with the choice of either making the trip in the car deck below or to wait for the next service operated by one of the other vessels.”

The tender for the fast ferry service and a helicopter service have still not materialised, the KA said, adding that it expects decisions to be taken.

It asked what would become of Gozo Channel if the tunnel does become a reality. “Would the company still be allowed to be supported by public funds? Would it be in the position to replace its current fleet?” The KA insisted that the Government publishes the full report on the tunnel’s feasibility.

The KA highlighted that the economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts must be carefully studied, as the tunnel may cause Gozo to lose its beauty, which has happened in various Maltese localities. It also highlighted those small communities, such as Manikata, L-Gherien, should not be ignored by such a big project, especially if cultural heritage sites are in danger. “What studies have been carried out on the impacts of the tunnel on domestic tourism? What would the impact be on the owners of farmhouses/tourist apartments in Gozo?”

“The KA repeats its appeal to the Planning Authority, the Environmental Resources Authority (ERA), the Strategic Environment Assessment Focal Point and Transport Malta, to ensure that the Environmental Impact Assessment and the Strategic Environment Assessments Directives be strictly adhered to.”

It also appealed to the Department of Contracts to ensure that the procedure for the choice of the option or number of options for better accessibility between the islands will truly be above board. It said there must be transparency in all processes and that such transparency must be included in publication of all studies.

The KA said that, whilst the Government has indicated its commitments towards sustainable development, the environment has to be safeguarded more than ever before. “If one is not careful, the Malta-Gozo tunnel can be a case where Government would have wholeheartedly relied on one accessibility alternative. In this way, it would have adopted a ‘tunnel vision’’ that would put it in a weak position when negotiating with a contractor of such a project, with the environmental and socio-economic consequences being suffered by a present and future generations of Maltese and Gozitans.”

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