Sunday, 30th May 2010
Can't afford to make mistakes - de Marco
The authorities cannot afford to make any mistakes over a proposal to develop the "pristine" bay at Ħondoq ir-Rummien in Gozo, Tourism Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco said yesterday.
Contacted in the wake of last Thursday's rowdy public hearing on the proposed controversial marina village in Qala, Dr de Marco said it was too simplistic to talk about the advantages of a yacht marina at Ħondoq without also looking at the impact this may have on the bay.
"Our environment is too small to afford to suffer any more mistakes than we have already committed in the past, sometimes even in the name of tourism and progress," he told The Sunday Times.
"One has to examine such proposed projects with great caution, especially if we want to promote 'responsible tourism' for our future," he said.
Dr de Marco, whose remit includes the environment and the planning authority, said that ultimately it was a matter of weighing the advantages a marina may have against the impact on the environment of the specific locality where it was proposed, on marine life and the adjacent bay.
"That is what sustainable development requires. That is what responsible tourism demands," he said.
The project - comprising a five-star hotel, 285 residential units and villas, 731 underground parking spaces, 10 shops, five restaurants and a marina for some 150 boats - has been dogged by controversy since Gozo Prestige Holidays filed an application in 2002.
The €120 million development on a disused quarry owned by Victor Bajada was inspired by the "hanging garden effect" of villages dotting the Amalfi Coast in Italy, but environmental NGOs and residents were not impressed.
In 2002, Qala council held a referendum in which 85 per cent of residents voted to keep Ħondoq ir-Rummien bay free of development. They remain strongly opposed to the project as witnessed during the heated hearing organised by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority last week.
During that meeting, mayor Paul Buttigieg said the majority of residents would continue to oppose the development as long as the yacht marina, which they believed threatened the bay's integrity, remained part of the plans.
However, Edward Bencini, the architect entrusted with drafting the project, feels the marina is a crucial element.
"You can buy a Rolls Royce or a Mini Minor. A marina is the quality project Gozo deserves. Everybody raised hell about the Hilton marina in St Julian's years ago. Today everyone realises the marina is the project - it gives it essence," he said when contacted.
Eight years on, despite ongoing opposition, the developers still believe in the project and Mr Bencini insists the presence of a marina village in Gozo "will give it the missing jewel in its crown".
"We believe Gozo deserves a project of this nature. We have a vision for it. Just because of a few people who have their private interests at heart and believe the Qala beach is theirs and theirs alone... does not mean that a necessary and quality project such as this should not see the light of day," he said.
"This is all a matter of proper management. This was done in Italy, France and Greece, why not in Malta?" Mr Bencini said.
Environment NGOs and Alternattiva Demokratika yesterday reiterated their opposition to the marina village.
Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and the Ramblers' Association issued a joint statement maintaining that this project was designed to serve the private interests of a few and "ride roughshod" over the wishes and well-being of the people.
The statement also deplored Mepa's handling of the public consultation, a sentiment echoed by the Save Ħondoq Movement.
Alternattiva Demokratika spokesman for sustainable development Carmel Cacopardo said the rowdy meeting made it clear the proposed development was still based on speculators taking over land used for leisure and restricting the public right to access the beach.