Church commission slams Gozo tunnel, NGOs file protest for full transparency

Environmental NGOs, Moviment Graffitti, file judicial protest demanding full transparency on Malta-Gozo tunnel

The church’s environment commission has slammed the government’s proposed Gozo subsea tunnel, saying the absence of studies on alternatives make the project “unjustified”.

“The commission is disappointed that Government has not yet published all the studies that have been carried out on this project, and more importantly, without implementing long-promised alternatives to improve accessibility between the islands.”

In a report, the interdiocesan commission (KA) said it had looked at various aspects surrounding the project, including environmental impact, studies published, possible alternatives and accessibility services.

The KA said there existed no sound and reliable information in the public domain for a good analysis of the possible alternatives which would truly improve accessibility between the islands.

The commission also said that it expects a cost-benefit analysis of the “various alternative options available”.

The options include an additional Gozo Channel ship, a fast ferry service, an underground rail system and a completely new fleet of ships. “The tunnel is being presented as the sole solution for improved accessibility,” the commission said.

The KA said promises of a permanent fourth vessel and the introduction of a fast-ferry service had not yet been fulfilled, and criticized the lack of accessibility onboard the leased ferry currently in use by Gozo Channel.

The commission also raised concerns over what will happen to the current ferry service should a tunnel be built. “If the tunnel becomes a reality what would become of Gozo Channel Co. Ltd and its Public Service Obligation (PSO)? Would the company still be allowed to be supported by public funds? Would it be in a position to replace its current fleet?”

On the project’s environmental impact, the commission said that tunnel may cause Gozo to lose the beauty of its characteristic landscape, “just as is happening in various Maltese localities.”

It also raised its concern over the impact on the communities living with the areas where the entrance and exit to the proposed tunnel will be located. “To have a project which ignores the interests of small communities, even when these are a testimony to the richness of our history and culture, poses a danger to every small community in Malta and Gozo,” the church said.

The statement was followed by a judicial protest filed by a broad network of NGOs and professional bodies, calling on Infrastructure Malta, the Transport Minister and the Planning Minister to provide full transparency about the Malta-Gozo tunnel.
“Infrastructure Malta is going ahead with the procedures for the tunnel when the Transport Plan does not provide for it and before the obligatory assessment of alternatives and public consultation is carried out. This is another attempt to force things through without the required environmental, health and traffic studies can be carried out - making public consultation redundant,” said a spokesperson for the protestants.

The twelve organisations filing the judicial protest are Bicycle Advocacy Group, BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Isles of the Left, Kamra tal-Periti, Moviment Graffitti, Nature Trust (Malta), Ramblers’ Association of Malta, The Archaeological Society Malta and Żminijietna – Voice of the Left.

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