Portomaso also considered as potential land reclamation zone, ERA memo shows

Exclusive | Far longer coastline identified for land reclamation. extending the entire area between Xghajra and Portomaso in St Julian’s, which includes waters off Sliema, Valletta and Cottonera

Portomaso: a land reclamation proposal by Tumas Group also formed part of the 21 land reclamation proposals submitted to government in 2013.
Portomaso: a land reclamation proposal by Tumas Group also formed part of the 21 land reclamation proposals submitted to government in 2013.

The Labour administration will consider an entire stretch of coastline that starts from Portomaso and Sliema’s territorial waters for land reclamation, in advice it has received from the Environment and Resources Authority. 

This newspaper can confirm that a far longer coastline was identified in a site selection exercise by the ERA, with the identified area extending the entire area between Xghajra and Portomaso in St Julian’s, which includes waters off Sliema, Valletta and Cottonera. 

Map indicating the areas considered for land reclamation
Map indicating the areas considered for land reclamation

According to the ERA presentation, this is the are with the highest potential for land reclamation, which means it will enjoy major support among the development lobby seeking new land for commercial expansion. 

The presentation also identifies other areas along the Maltese coast for small and medium sized reclamation projects. These include the Mgarr harbour in Gozo which has been in the past identified for a cruise liner terminal, Qalet Marku in Bahar ic-Caghaq, St Paul’s Bay, Marsaxlokk and an area offXghajra already utilized for the dumping of construction waste. 

Portomaso was already identified for land reclamation in the Paceville masterplan issued by the Planning Authority in 2016, which was subsequently shelved after widespread opposition by local councils and residents. A land reclamation proposal by Tumas Group also formed part of the 21 land reclamation proposals submitted to government in 2013. 

According to the presentation the entire stretch between Portomaso and Xghajra  is identified for commercial, industrial and urban development as well as for "the creation of natural habitats.” 

Although Qalet Marku in Bahar ic-Caghaq has not been identified for large scale land reclamation, it still has potential for breakwaters, marinas and touristic development. 

The presentation makes it clear that any areas described as a “potentially suitable” should not be considered as "definitely acceptable for the purposes of land reclamation”. 

The presentation gives no clue on whether land reclamation will consist of artificial islands or in an extension of the coastline. This is because the ERA studies are limited to excluding no-go areas on the basis of ecological concerns. Neither do these studies assess financial and economic feasibility.  

The presentation confirms that the site election was based on “the avoidance” of protected habitats  especially areas which include the priority habitat Posidonia beds. 

But MaltaToday is informed that such habitats are also found in the area off Portomaso. In fact this was one of the problems raised by the Environment Protection Directorate in the 1990s before the residential development was approved in place of the former Hilton hotel. 

Previous studies on land reclamation, namely the one by Carl Bro in 2005 and the Scott Wilson report of 2007 had identified the area between Xghajra and Marsaskala as the only environmentally acceptable zone for land reclamation due to the absence of Posidonia meadows. Sources in ERA confirmed that present-day studies confirm that this is still the case today. 

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