ERA still conducting analysis of land reclamation sites

Environment and Resources Authority confirms that 'analysis' of potential land reclamation sites are still underway

Nine months after former environment minister José Herrera announced that a final report on land reclamation sites was to be submitted to Cabinet, a spokesperson for the Environment and Resources Authority confirmed that “an analysis” of potential sites was still underway.

The ERA had been tasked by the government with identifying potential sites that could be considered further for land reclamation projects.

In November 2019 Herrera announced that he was soon to present a report to Cabinet identifying the sites chosen by ERA. “For me, land reclamation is no longer the elephant in the room… in the coming weeks the document will be presented to Cabinet,” Herrera had told MaltaToday in September.

While excluding residential developments on such infrastructure, Herrera recognised that “such a project will also have to have an economic and commercial dimension”.

In November 2019, while speaking on TVM’s Dissett, Herrera said that an €1.1 million study of the sea around Malta would form the basis for a proposal that he will be putting before Cabinet, suggesting that some six sites were identified for environmentally safe reclamation.

But that discussion was overtaken by the momentous events which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in 2019, and the appointment of a new government led by Robert Abela in which Aaron Farrugia replaced Herrera as environment minister.

But in a clear indication that the new government may be buying more time before divulging details on the controversial topic, ERA is insisting that the analysis of potential sites has yet to be concluded. “Such analysis is underway and will be published once finalized”.

Moreover, following the identification of such sites, “further studies would be necessary on a case-by-case basis in order to evaluate the feasibility and environmental impacts of specific project proposals for these identified sites,” the ERA spokesperson said.

The ERA spokesperson did not reply when asked whether a final report has already been presented to government and whether it will be issued for public consultation.

Land reclamation was first considered by the Gonzi administration in 2005 but subsequent studies questioned the environmental and economic viability of such projects in the absence of massive real estate investment. In 2013 the newly elected Labour government issued a call for expression of interest for companies interested in land reclamation projects. But in 2018 the government decided that ERA should first indicate the least environmentally sensitive area where land reclamation can take place.

The generation of one million tonnes of waste for the construction of the Gozo tunnel is set to aggravate Malta’s limited space to take in waste, a move that will likely lead to greater pressure for land reclamation. But Xghajra residents, represented by a Labour-led council, shot down a draft document from December 2019 which identified a vast stretch of sea area between Portomaso and Xgħajra as ideal for large-scale land reclamation.

Several other sites, such as Qaliet Marku in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq and the Freeport, were also seen as ideal for small scale projects.

The major consideration in the ERA report seen by MaltaToday was “the avoidance” of protected habitats, especially areas which include the priority habitat Posidonia beds. But such habitats are also found in the area off Portomaso which forms part of the preferred site. The botched Paceville masterplan had also proposed land reclamation at Portomaso to create more space for residential development in the resort.

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