The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

TMIS Editorial - Gozo: Anything but a diamond (with apologies to The Tramps)

Sunday, 13 June 2021, 10:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Our front page today focuses heavily on the sister island of Gozo, which is being plagued by many issues, including overdevelopment, crime and mismanagement.

The first issue is tackled in an interview with one of the founding members of a new lobby group – the new Gozo branch of environmental NGO Din l-Art Helwa.

Daniel Cilia does not mince his words: “Politicians are not doing enough to protect Gozo.”

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He could not be more right. For years now, Gozo has been falling victim to rampant overdevelopment, developers’ greed and poor planning policies that favour the construction sector rather than the island’s unique character.

The Planning Authority seems to be apathetic towards the cries of disgust and the fact that Gozo – famously described as a ‘diamond’ in the popular song by The Tramps ‘Inti djamant’ – has been turned into something more akin to a cheap piece of costume jewellery.

Quant seaside villages have been turned into new Bugibbas, and the construction just keeps going on, and on, and on.

One cannot say that Gozo is underrepresented in the political sphere – as Cilia rightly points out, there are six MPs and one MEP hailing from the island. Yet most of them, particularly those from the government side, remain conspicuously silent in the face of the destruction that is taking place there.

The situation in Marsalforn is dire. The town has become a choc-a-bloc of ugly and irregular shaped buildings, traffic jams and incomplete projects.

Xlendi is very much the same, and the once picturesque bay is now overshadowed by tall apartment blocks that do anything but respect the natural beauty of the area.

But it is not just the popular tourist areas that are under threat. Even places like Xaghra are under siege. The village’s skyline is now dotted with tower cranes … a clear sign that the once-quiet locality is next on the developers’ list.

Then there is the never-ending Hondoq ir-Rummien saga. If a referendum were to be held today on the future of the beach, everyone would vote for the area to be safeguarded. No one wants to see a hotel, or flats or a yacht marina developed there. But instead of actually doing something about this and urgently changing the planning policy covering the area, the government shifts the blame on previous administrations, seemingly forgetting that it has been in power for over eight years now.

This comes as no surprise, especially when comparing Hondoq to what is happening in Pembroke with the ex-ITS project. 17,000 objections fell on deaf ears and the developer will get his way. Screw the people, right?

Undoubtedly, the upcoming Gozo tunnel will drive up the demand for property in Gozo. The government always speaks about the benefits that improved access to the island, but always seems to forget the impacts that the tunnel will have in terms of property and overpopulation.

We are pretty sure that this situation will only be made worse when property agents start advertising property abroad, with the help of government grants.

There are other issues apart from planning. This week we reported how, despite the promises made seven months ago, the ‘regenerated’ Menqa area in Marsalforn remains open to vehicles. The expensive lava stone paving has already been ruined by vehicle oils and tyre marks, and the area is a traffic and parking nightmare.

Menqa is a clear example that there is a huge difference between what the projects look like on paper and what they are like in real life.

The Zebbug local council has been promised by Transport Malta that the area will finally become pedestrianised soon, but this remains to be seen. Like St Thomas, we will only believe it when we see it happening.

Another issue plaguing the island of Gozo is the rising crime rate. One of our reports today reveals that a by-law will soon outlaw the consumption of alcohol on Marsalforn’s beaches and promenades. The move aims to control drunken and rowdy behaviour that has become an everyday occurrence as of late.

But crime is not only on the rise in Marsalforn. In fact, recent statistics showed that crime is up across Gozo in general, and it does not seem like the police are doing anything to meet this growing concern.

For years and years now, we have heard successive governments say that they want to promote Gozo as an eco-destination, that they want to promote investment there while retaining its unique charm.

What we have seen is the exact opposite: no investment to speak of and a landscape that is turning into something that no tourist will even dream of visiting.

 

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