The Times Friday, September 16, 2011
In the past years, various yacht marinas were developed in Malta. These are deemed important for the Maltese economy in a contest of diversification and niche markets with lucrative sources of investment and revenue. This economic niche deserves support, especially due to Malta’s geographic position as a maritime hub.
Yet, one should also keep in mind that yacht marinas can also bring about economic, social and environmental controversies. They are subject to policy, contestation, consensus and controversy. From the swimmer to the businessman, from the yacht owner to the resident nearby, there are different interests characterising the field. The yacht marina issue exemplifies this.
For example, on the economic level, the development of yacht marinas can run counter to the interests of fishermen operating in the same zones and using traditional methods. On the environmental level, yacht marinas can result in the destruction of natural habitats, for example of fish breeding grounds known as posedonia meadows. On a social level, yacht marinas can infringe on the rights of swimmers to enjoy the sea.
From Portomaso to Ħondoq ir-Rummien, Malta has not been free from such controversy.
In the case of Ħondoq, Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party recently urged the Malta Environment and Planning Authority board to endorse the recommendations of the Environment Planning Directorate and refuse the proposed development of a yacht marina and tourist village in this popular bay in Gozo. Such development is a severe threat to the rights of swimmers in the area.
Indeed, we expect the Mepa board to refuse the proposed development and, thus, close the issue once and for all. Together with NGOs and Moviment Ħarsien Ħondoq, AD is the only political party that has been opposing the development ever since it was proposed. Like others, we also agree with the embellishment of the beach and the area for the benefit of the public.
Another area characterised by yachts is Sliema and Gżira, from the Tigné seafront across Marsamxett to Manoel Island. A yacht marina close to the Fortina Hotel was privatised after being operated by the maritime and transport authorities. The yacht marina is close to a beach concession to the Fortina Hotel and a public beach at Tigné, which is very popular with swimmers.
Indeed, this area can be divided into four zones. The first part, extending from the Ferries to somewhere in front of Nazzareno church, which is occupied by excursion boats. The second part extends from Nazzareno church to the edge of the Fortina beach concession, which is now a yacht marina but was previously used by swimmers. There is then the Fortina beach concession and the area beyond the Fortina Hotel concession, which is frequented by swimmers.
When I was local councillor in Sliema between 2003 and 2009, many residents used to complain about lack of access to the beach due to nearby development. Now, residents are expressing concern about the possible effects on people’s health from the existent yacht marina, which is being buffered by the Fortina beach concession. To date, the quality of the sea at the beach looks good, yet, it would be recommendable to have the health authorities verify this in order that appropriate measures can be taken should they be required.
At face value, residents should not be concerned with further yacht marina development in Sliema. A government document published in April 2009 (Developing Of Yachting Facilities In Malta https://opm.gov.mt/file.aspx?f=1289) did not recommend that Sliema be subject to further yacht marina development, for various reasons, due to the extent of investment required for parking and boat berthing. In The Times (July 23, 2009), the Malta Maritime Authority was quoted as saying that, as regards the Sliema area in question, “for the time being, this site is not being recommended for further consideration in view of the investment required to construct an adequate breakwater in relation to the number of berths created and the necessary reclamation to provide adequate parking facilities and amenities” (www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090723/local/marinas.266445).
In this regard, I ask the maritime authority and the ministry responsible for transport whether this recommendation still holds.
Given that Malta seems to be inclined to have more and not fewer yacht marinas, it would make sense to have a holistic vision based on the concept of sustainable development. In this regard, economic, social and environmental factors should not be seen in isolation of each other but should be analysed holistically in terms of their interdependent relationship.
To this effect, should there be any further plans for development, widespread consultation with local councils, residents and NGOs is imperative in order that a proper balance can be reached between the economic need to have yacht marinas and the social, environmental and even economic factors that stand to lose out due to lack of adequate planning.
Michael Briguglio, a sociologist, is chairman and spokesman for economy and finance, Alternattiva Demokratika –
the Green party.