Balluta ferry berthing plans set to be rejected

Plans for a berthing facility for a hop-on hop-off ferry service in Balluta Bay are set to be rejected by the Planning Authority

The St Julians and Sliema local councils and several NGOs are opposed to the ferry landing plans in Balluta Bay
The St Julians and Sliema local councils and several NGOs are opposed to the ferry landing plans in Balluta Bay

The planning commission intends to refuse an application for berthing facilities for a hop-on hop-off ferry service in Balluta Bay.

The decision was postponed by a week after the commission asked the case officer, who had recommended approval, to present reasons for refusal based on policy.

The ferry service will be operated by Fortina Investments, using a 33-metre long boat and the proposed landing place is close to the St Julians water polo club.

Activists opposed to the project have insisted the project is not meant to be an alternative mode of transport but a tourist service. 

St Julian’s mayor Albert Buttigieg noted the absence of any site selection studies to identify the best site for a ferry service and also the absence of any study on how the proposed service will improve the traffic situation. He questioned whether this was a tourist service or one aimed at providing a public transport alternative.

“We are suffocated by commercialisation. Even the pavements have been taken away. Will the sea be next? Our locality deserves a masterplan to assess these issues holistically,” Buttigieg said.

Andre Callus from Graffitti, an activist group that rallied residents against the project, said the application was misleading.

“By what stretch of imagination can a ferry meant for tourists, operated by a private company, be in any way described as an alternative means of transport? This is a misleading application since it does not include the whole route of the hop on hop off service,” Callus said.

He also asked who gave the sea in the area to the Fortina Group.

Lawyer Claire Bonello presented official maps designating the area as a bathing zone. She referred to a study by the Environment and Resources Authority that warned of the threat to the posidonia meadows because of increased turbidity.

Astrid Vella from FAA, an environmental NGO, called for more studies to assess the impact on the community and also questioned whether this will set a precedent for future licenses.

“Is this going to be run only by the Captain Morgan? Will this be a monopoly of sea transport all over the island with hop on hop off stops along the coastline?”

The architect of the project confirmed that the berth will be part of a hop on hop off service with 10 stops operating by an “environmentally friendly” ship.  He also said that the berth will be “semi-submersible.”

He also insisted that the area is not designated as a swimming zone even if he acknowledged that the area is recognised as a bathing area.

Various residents insisted that they swim in the area. “Should we be confined to a swimming zone and not be able to cross from one part of Balluta to another?”

The project proposed by Fortina was recommended for approval by the PA, with the application’s case officer saying it would encourage the use of ferries as an alternative form of transport. 

The application would allow a private operator to run a hop-on, hop-off ferry service from the popular bay in St Julians. Residents represented by the local council however fear that the plans would ruin the popular swimming spot and turn it into “another ferries”.

Sliema’s Ferries area is dominated by commercial tourist vessels, many of them operated by Captain Morgan, which is also owned by the Fortina Group.

Water polo club supports project

The St Julians water polo club, which has its own plans for a massive land reclamation project on 3,400sq.m of sea bed on a nearby site, have also supported the application.

The water polo project will accommodate pools, restaurants and an outside catering area. One of the owners of Fortina, Edward Zammit Tabona is also CEO of the water polo club.

During the planning meeting, former club secretary Carlo Mifsud admitted that the two projects are linked.

“The club will benefit from passing trade but we are not benefitting from it personally. Why put project somewhere else and not near our club?” he asked.

On Monday morning, Fortina Investments said the proposed berthing facility was only temporary and will eventually be shifted to the area closer to the club once the water polo pitch project is completed.

NGOs welcome Planning Commission decision to 'recommend refusal for private jetty in Balluta Bay'

The Saint Julian’s Local Council and 11 NGOs have welcomed the planning commission’s decision to overturn the case officer's recommendation regarding the private jetty in Balluta Bay from one of approval to one of refusal. 

“Several residents, the St. Julian’s Local Council and NGO representatives presented their objection to this Fortina/Captain Morgan proposal during the Planning Commission meeting today. They stated that the project runs counter to numerous planning policies and will have a deleterious impact on bathers and residents." 

The group said that the application for a private jetty, forming part of a much larger network, was being filed in a piecemeal manner and that, contrary to what is being claimed, a private ferry for tourists did not constitute as alternative means of transport.

"The Planning Commission accepted most of these objections and ordered the case officer to outline reasons for refusal of the application. The case will now be decided in a definitive manner on Tuesday 11 February."

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