Sunday Times of Malta, 23 November 2008, by Herman Grech

A proposal to build a new road in Ghadira would cut right through environmentally sensitive sites and threaten the viability of a major tourist complex, according to those opposing the project.

Sections of the road would intersect the Foresta 2000 project site as well as running virtually alongside the Danish Village complex and Ghadira nature reserve. The project will also cut through the green huts caravan site before joining the existing road, which runs towards Cirkewwa.

The proposal, forming part of Malta’s proposed EU Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) project, is intended to ease the traffic flow between Cirkewwa and Mellieha, according to the Roads Ministry.

This means that the beach would be extended inland, connecting it once again to the beach – which the ministry says is “crucial” for sand replenishment.

The ministry said several environmental studies had shown that without the existing road the natural sand formation at Ghadira would be much larger as the dunes would be allowed to move naturally. The plan is to eliminate the existing coast road once the new one is complete.

But environmentalists and the Danish Village complex owners are incensed at the proposal and have questioned the need to build such a road when traffic in the area has never posed problems.

Din l-Art Helwa director Petra Bianchi said the road project would risk ruining one of the few pristine stretches of land in Malta.

“I only became aware of this proposal recently and for us it’s totally unacceptable,” she said.

Birdlife Malta executive director Tolga Temuge said the project would have an adverse impact on the Ghadira Nature Reserve and the Foresta 2000 site and was likely to affect an area of high biodiversity value. Mr Temuge said the sand dune system mentioned by the ministry was located along only a small part of the existing road.

On the other hand, the proposed new road would cause the loss of protected garigue habitat and create significant disturbance to wildlife in an area that is designated as a protected area under both EU and Maltese law.

“We recommend that instead of using the sand dune argument, the minister should explain to the Maltese taxpayers how replacing a four-lane road with no existing traffic problems with a two-lane road will make any sense from a transportation point of view.”

Danish Village managing director Flemming Jensen said he was baffled and shocked by the plans.

“We’re victims of a proposal we don’t understand. In 13 years, I’ve never seen a traffic jam outside our complex,” he said. Mr Jensen said he was recently called to a meeting at the ADT and shown three different proposals of the road, each of which would place the new road within 15 metres of the holiday complex.

He warned that the road would ruin the aesthetics of a low-rise tourist village, which is renowned for blending into the environment.

“They say they want to extend the beach, but by then, all the tourists would have long gone,” he said, referring to the 17,000 guests a year who have visited the complex for the past three decades.

The proposal could, however, face a number of stumbling blocks, especially since the planning for any TEN-T project will need to comply with the requirements of EU environmental legislation.

A spokesman for the Roads Ministry said the ADT had originally considered the option of upgrading the existing Ghadira route to proper highway standards. The necessary upgrades were found to be profoundly problematic by the environmental lobby, specifically Birdlife, which looked into the matter in great detail. Birdlife had objected on the grounds that it would have cut straight through the nature reserve.

The ministry has therefore sought alternatives, and a route that connects the Ta’ Pinellu hill to the Cirkewwa route from behind the Danish Village and the bird sanctuary creates the opportunity to remove altogether the existing road at Ghadira.

“We have started initial consultations on the idea for an alternative route and have obtained favourable opinions of the heads of the environmental and transport teams at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

“We are drawing up detailed plans that, if presented to Mepa, will need to undergo the entire planning permitting process, including environmental impact assessments and public consultations,” the ministry said.