Times of Malta, 2nd December 2008

BirdLife and Din l-Art Ħelwa insisted yesterday that contrary to claims by the Transport Minister, the proposed Għadira road will cut through Mellieha’s Foresta 2000 site.

Birdlife director Tolga Temuge said Minister Austin Gatt’s statements show that his understanding of the area is that it simply involves tree planting whereas in actual fact it is a conservation project that includes farmland and habitat restoration.

The ministry’s statement that the garigue landscape is by definition the lowest grade of natural habitat in our islands is shocking as the habitat in question is one of the reasons the area was designated a Special Area of Conservation, continued Mr Temuge.

Ever since the news of the proposal was made public two weeks ago, several environmental NGOs have been insisting that it would intersect the Foresta 2000 project site as well as run alongside the Għadira nature reserve.

The management of the Danish Village complex – one of Malta’s main tourist complexes – has noted that the project may mean it will have to close down as the road would pass within metres of its guests’ rooms.

Still, the ministry held firm to its position yesterday and said that, in objecting to the new Għadira road, Labour leader Joseph Muscat was objecting to a much needed 34,500 square metre-extension of the sandy beach.

The ministry pointed out that Malta had lost beaches at Marsalforn, Xlendi and Balluta because roads were built behind them. However, the new road would make the biggest beach extension ever in Malta possible, upgrading an important element for the tourism industry.

The ministry issued a statement in reaction to comments made by Dr Muscat on Sunday. Dr Muscat criticised the proposed road highlighting the fact that there are no studies to support this plan.

He also pointed out that the ministry had in hand a proposal that would allow the beach to be extended but which did not require the building of a road near the Għadira reserve and the Natura 2000 site.

Dr Muscat, in fact, stressed that one of the proposals suggests the building of an Irish bridge, an elevated road over the existing one behind the beach. That would allow the beach to grow while avoiding the need to develop a completely new thoroughfare.

On this point, however, the ministry said that the same NGOs which were now opposing the new project had opposed that proposal.

The €15 million project would form part of Malta’s proposed EU Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) project and, according to the government, it is intended to ease the traffic flow between Ċirkewwa and Mellieħa.

Two car parks will also be built on either end of Għadira bay if the government goes ahead with its plan and, although plans have not yet been finalised, the Transport Ministry said the car parks will “almost certainly” not be underground.