Times of Malta, 29 November 2008, by Cynthia Busuttil

Two car parks will be built on either end of the popular Għadira bay if the government goes ahead with its plan to replace the existing road, The Times has learned.

The Transport Ministry said plans have not yet been finalised but the car parks will “almost certainly” not be underground.

One car park would be placed next to the Seabank Hotel and another close to the green boathouses at the other end, along with public transport facilities.

The news emerges as the government comes under heavy fire for its plans to demolish the existing coast road and replace it with another one running alongside the back of the Danish Village complex and the Għadira nature reserve, touching the Foresta 2000 project site.

The project, mainly funded by the EU, is needed to address the area’s parking problem among other things, according to Transport Minister Austin Gatt. The parking spaces lost from the existing road will be replaced with the new car parks.

The ministry said yesterday that the existing dual-lane road would be replaced with a much narrower wooden structure on stilts, mainly for pedestrians, together with extended paving and verges. The structure, the ministry said, would allow access without blocking the natural replenishment of the beach.

It would be able to support small vehicles to ensure accessibility for persons with mobility impairments but would not be a public road for regular traffic.

The ministry said plans still have to be finalised before a planning application is made to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. The submission would be made “when and if” the government decides to consider the option under review.

Besides criticism from environmental NGOs because of the potential impact on the nature reserve and the Foresta 2000 site, the Danish Village has also raised concerns that the road would ruin the aesthetics of the low-rise tourist complex.

But Dr Gatt has insisted that maintaining the status quo is not an option, especially since the sandy beach is slowly being eroded. He did not back up his assertion with any studies.

Din l-Art Ħelwa, the heritage trust, yesterday said it was incomprehensible that the main reason behind the proposed road is the conservation and replenishment of the beach when this plan was reportedly not supported by studies.

Dr Gatt had admitted on Wednesday that the plans were not backed by any studies.

Din l-Art Ħelwa also questioned whether the minister had been serious when he said he was still open to all options regarding the proposed road, as he intended to apply for EU funds for the project by January.

Even the Labour Party spoke out against the proposed road, saying that alternatives to the project exist.

During a meeting with environmental organisation Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar yesterday, party leader Joseph Muscat said he could not understand how the Infrastructure Minister said that the road would be developed when the next day the Rural Affairs Minister said that no decisions had yet been taken.