Gzira council goes to court to reclaim Manoel Island foreshore

The Gzira local council filed a judicial protest against Tigné Point developers MIDI plc to demand that Manoel Island’s foreshore be opened to the public

The judicial protest accuses MIDI of blocking off access to the foreshore to the detriment of Gzira residents
The judicial protest accuses MIDI of blocking off access to the foreshore to the detriment of Gzira residents

The Gzira local council has filed a judicial protest against MIDI to demand that the development consortium open up Manoel Island’s foreshore to the public. 

“Gzira is located by the sea and yet residents have nowhere else to swim in their own locality, besides Manoel Island,” Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manche told MaltaToday. “The foreshore belongs to the public, and MIDI should enclose a space by the Sliema front where residents can swim.” 

The judicial protest, signed by lawyers Edward Woods and Keith Borg, accuses MIDI of blocking off access to the foreshore to the detriment of Gzira residents. 

It notes that a 99-year emphyteusis granted to MIDI back in June 2000 for the regeneration of Manoel Island and Tigne specifically excluded the island’s foreshore. 

However, MIDI chief executive Luke Coppini warned in comments to MaltaToday that turning Manoel Island’s foreshore into a free-for-all swimming zone is not an option, as it risks opening the floodgates to vandalism and drug abuse on the island.

“The foreshore belongs to the public, but the rest is private property. If people damage it while walking through, then we’ll ultimately be held responsible for it.” 

He said that the council’s judicial protest came out of the blue, and that the issue could have easily been resolved through a cordial meeting.

Yet, Borg Manche retorted that MIDI recently rejected a request by the Gzira council to hold an event at Manoel Island, on the grounds that “they had spoken to third parties and decided not to give permits to outsiders”.

Luke Coppini pledged that MIDI remains fully committed to regenerating the former military base at Manoel Island, as it had agreed to do 16 years ago. 

He said that there is a “very high” level of interest from potential investors in the Manoel Island project, but that MIDI has informally suspended its search for a strategic partner, pending the development of a master plan for Manoel Island. That is currently being drafted with the help of major British architect firm Foster and Partners. 

“We remain 100% committed to regenerating Manoel Island, so as to restore value and pride in it,” Coppini said.

Back in 2000, Midi was granted both Tigne Point and Manoel Island on a 99-year-empytheusis on condition that they regenerate the two former military bases. However, while a yacht marina was developed and Fort Manoel restored, Midi focused most of its energy into developing Tigne into a high-end residential and commercial centre.

Their original plans for Manoel Island were to develop it into a marina village, complete with low-rise homes, gardens, a yacht marina, shoreline walkways, a boutique hotel, a waterfront promenade, and cultural, leisure and sports facilities. The project would also involve the restoration of Fort Manoel and the old Lazzaretto hospital, and development was to be limited to 30% of the island, towards its south-west coast. Coppini said last year that the regeneration project could cost up to €500 million, which could force MIDI to rope in a majority shareholder. 

“We remain 100% committed to regenerating Manoel Island, so as to restore value and pride in it,” Coppini said.

‘Fort Manoel must be returned to the public’ 

Gzira’s local council has also been critical of the fact that Fort Manoel has effectively remained in MIDI’s hands, even in the years after its restoration. 

“It’s the most beautiful fort in Malta, with a square larger than St George’s Square in Valletta, and the concession granted to MIDI in 2000 specifically stated that it had to be returned to the public once the project was complete,” Borg Manche said. “Although it has now been restored, it remains inaccessible to the public, used only as a film set and a location for private parties,” the Labour mayor said. “Coppini was really nice when I first spoke to him about it, but when it came to the si o no, he acted differently. I don’t know whether he thinks we are naïve or stupid, but the people are angry now and expect the council to take action.”

The mayor also cast doubt on whether MIDI will be able to finish the Manoel Island project by 2023, the deadline stipulated in the 2000 concession. 

“If they don’t complete it by 2023, then the government will be obliged to seize both Manoel Island and Tigne from them,” he said. “They haven’t started the project in 16 years, so I’m not sure how much they’ll be able to do in six. What is sure is that I’ll resist any attempt to extend the deadline; 23 years is more than enough time and we’re fed up of the consortium now.”

Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Arnold Cassola welcomed the Gzira local council’s judicial protest, arguing in a Facebook post that all the foreshore should belong to the public.  

 

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