MaltaToday survey | Majority against spring hunting, Armier shantytown and Gozo bridge

60% against spring hunting, Armier shacks and 52% against Gozo bridge

james
James Debono
16 July 2013, 12:00am


A MaltaToday survey on three major environmental issues shows that three out of five Maltese citizens are against spring hunting and favour the demolition of the illegal Armier shacks.

The survey also shows that a slim majority, 52%, would prefer to improve or retain the existing sea transport between Malta and Gozo rather than building a permanent link between the two islands, an idea that is supported by 46% of respondents. Moreover, while 47% think that a bridge would spoil the view of the Gozo channel, 38% believe that a bridge would enhance the landscape.

The survey shows that respondents with a tertiary education are more likely to consider a bridge between the two islands as an eyesore, and they are also more likely to consider it to be economically unfeasible.

Consistently, the survey shows that younger, tertiary-educated and PN-leaning respondents are more likely to oppose a bridge between the two islands, favour the demolition of the illegal shacks at Armier and vote in favour of a spring hunting ban in a prospective referendum.

Interestingly, the survey confirms the existence of a majority which defies the stand taken by both the major parties in the recent election, when they were committed to retaining hunting in spring, exploring the possibility of developing a bridge or tunnel between the two islands and retaining the status quo at Armier.

Only AD, which won the support of 1.8% of voters, took a consistent stance against spring hunting and the Armier shacks, while questioning the financial viability of a tunnel between Malta and Gozo.

It was only last Sunday that new PN Leader Simon Busuttil distanced himself from the Armier lobby by saying clearly that the party was not bound by any agreement signed in the past with the squatter's lobby, while calling on the government to implement a recent court sentence ordering the demolition of 12 Armier caravans. The sentence also made it clear that the agreements signed between the PN government and the Armier lobby in 2003 and 2008 were not legally binding.

The survey also shows that if AD and the newly created Coalition Against Spring Hunting manage to collect 34,000 signatures to force a referendum on spring hunting, they are likely to win it by a wide margin. But this also depends on voter turnout and the organisational ability to collect such a large number of signatures.

A bridge too far?

The survey reveals that public opinion is quite divided over whether a permanent link should be constructed between the two islands. But while a survey held in 2012 showed a staggering 64% of Gozitans favouring a bridge or tunnel connection between the two islands, presently 52% of all Maltese and Gozitans favour retaining or improving the present sea transport system.

The survey shows a very low level of support (12%) for constructing a tunnel under the sea, the favoured option of the previous Nationalist administration, which commenced feasibility studies to consider different alternatives for improving the connectivity between Malta and Gozo.

On the other hand, one-third of respondents (34%) favour the development of bridge. This comes in the wake of the new government's decision to sign a memorandum of understanding with China Communication Construction Company - a company that builds bridges and which is presently blacklisted by the World Bank - to conduct a separate feasibility study. Although the feasibility study is being conducted for no fee, the agreement binds the government not to use any designs included in the study without CCCC's permission.

Not surprisingly, in view of recent developments, Labour voters are more likely to support the development of a bridge, but instead of supporting the development of a tunnel as suggested by their party before the election, the majority of Nationalists seem keen on improving the existing sea transport.

While 65% of PN voters want to retain or improve existing sea links, 45% of Labour voters would prefer a bridge, while a further 10% favour a tunnel. This means that while a majority of Labour voters favour a permanent link, a majority of PN voters reject it.

The survey also shows that university-educated voters are the most likely to prefer improving the existing sea transport, while secondary-school-educated voters are the most likely to favour a bridge.

University-educated respondents are also the most likely to question the financial viability of a bridge.

The survey also illuminated that while a considerable percentage of respondents favour a bridge, only 5% are willing to pay more than 10 euros for a round trip between the two islands.  On the other hand, 47% are willing to pay between three and 10 euros, while one-fourth expects to pay less than two euros.

One-fifth of those who favour a bridge would not pay more than two euros to use it, while only 4% would be willing to pay more than 10 euros.

Significantly, only 8.3% report using  the existing sea link more than once a month, while nearly 4% (mostly Gozitans) report using the ferry service more than once a week. The vast majority of the respondents use the ferries between once and  five times a week. The low number of persons who make the crossing regularly casts doubt on the financial feasibility of a bridge or tunnel, although the number of trips could increase, as a permanent link would make travelling between the two islands easier. Yet this would also depend on the tariff charged to motorists using the bridge.

Surprisingly, a considerable 38% of respondents think that a bridge would constitute an improvement over one of Malta's most characteristic and pristine landscapes. These are outnumbered, however, by the 46% who think that a bridge would spoil the landscape.

Once again PN voters, university-educated and younger voters are the most likely to think that a bridge will have a negative impact on the landscape.

In fact, a majority of secondary-educated, over 55s and Labour voters think that a bridge will enhance the landscape.

Majority wants Armier shantytown demolished

Given a choice between demolishing the boathouses in Armier or granting a permit to regularise the positions of the squatters, 61% opt for the former. Only 31% would like the situation regularised, as suggested by the government.

This suggests that a vast majority would like the government to take a decisive stance on this issue, which dates back to the 1970s and 80s and saw thousands of boathouses built with impunity on public land. The last attempt to demolish the boathouses took place in 1992, but the operation was aborted.

Subsequently, the government signed agreements with the squatters, in 2003 and 2008, in which it promised to hand over 230 tumoli of public land in Armier to Armier Developments Ltd (a company owned by the illegal squatters) for a 65-year lease against an annual Lm157,000 (€350,000) payment. The squatter's lobby also signed parallel agreements with the Labour party, committing the latter not to demolish the shacks. The agreement was ratified on the eve of the 2013 election. No agreement was signed with the PN in the last election, during which AD was particularly vocal against this lobby group.

But support for demolition cuts across the political spectrum, with 64% of PN voters and 59% of PL voters favouring the demolition of the boathouses. Among university-educated voters, support for demolition rises to 84%. Primary- and secondary-educated respondents are more likely to favour regularising the position of the Armier squatters.

Majority wants spring hunting ban

The survey suggests widespread support for a ban on spring hunting, if a referendum on this issue were to be held.

AD and a coalition of NGOs have indicated that they will start collecting signatures to call for the abrogation of a legal notice which sets the framework for the spring hunting derogation.

The survey confirms the results of a previous survey held two months ago, which showed 60% against hunting in spring. This was the first time respondents were faced with the eventuality of a referendum.

A considerable number of respondents (12%) replied that they are either not interested or don't know about the issue. But only 28% would vote against removing hunting in spring.

Significantly, 78% of university-educated respondents, 71% of those aged between 18 and 34 and 63% of PN voters would vote against spring hunting.

On the other hand, a smaller majority against spring hunting exists among the  secondary educated (56%), persons aged 35 to 54 (52%) and PL voters (49%).

The survey shows that both PN and PL voters are at odds with their party's commitment to uphold the derogation on spring hunting. In the 2013 election, Alternattiva Demokratika (that is, the Greens) was the only party which advocated a ban on spring hunting. Before the election, PL Leader Joseph Muscat excluded a referendum on spring hunting, while former PN Leader Lawrence Gonzi said that he would consider one.

Yet despite strong support for a hunting ban, the actual referendum can only take place if the Greens manage to collect the 34,000 signatures required to call for an abrogative referendum.



Methodology

The survey was conducted between Monday, 1 July and Thursday, 4 July. A total of 731 potential respondents were contacted by telephone for the interview, 400 of whom accepted. The results of the survey were weighted to reflect the age and gender balance of the population. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4.9%.
james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...