Marsaskala outrage over marina nobody wants, has bidders concerned

Ian Borg’s Transport Malta regulator sticks to minimum 700-berth marina, tells bidders opposition to plans from NGOs only ‘speculative’ as design is yet to be approved

Activists and residents of Marsaskala gathered on the promenade in protest of the proposed marina (Photo: James Bianchi)
Activists and residents of Marsaskala gathered on the promenade in protest of the proposed marina (Photo: James Bianchi)

Bidders concerned by public opposition to the Marsaskala marina plans have been told the project will be planned “in the manner whereby most of these NGOs are satisfied with the design”, describing present objections as “speculative” since they will only be in a position to object after a design is chosen.

During a clarification meeting on 24 August, bidders specifically referred to opposition to the project by the Marsaskala council and the residents, asking how will this impact on the project.

Transport Malta, replying, insisted that present objections “should not be of concern” to them as the process is limited to the choice of the proponent of the project, describing objections from various entities as “speculative due to the fact that there is no approved design of the Marina.”

Residents out in force against Marsaskala marina

It is only after Transport Malta approves the design of the marina and a planning application is subsequently presented, that the local council and NGOs will be able to bring up their objections. “So, at this point, it is not of concern. Had it been a design that is being imposed on the proponents, then it would have been of concern.”

When further pressed to state whether the opinion of the council and citizens will influence the call for bidders, TM’s answer was that this will have a bearing “when the design is being chosen” and until then “the opinion is speculative” and based “on a hypothetical model”.

Bidders also expressed concern that even if chosen, they must still prepare an environmental impact assessment that might not have a positive income. They asked “what comfort Transport Malta will provide in terms of a negative outcome?”

TM’s said it expected that proponents come up with a design and model that will fulfill environmental requirements and planning requirements. “It is up to the proponent to come up with a project that would fulfill those requirements”.

Bidders even asked for further assurances as to whether Transport Malta will “be facilitating the process of the application with the Planning Authority.”

TM confirmed that it “will back the application” based on a design already approved and which “at prima facie seems to fulfill environmental and planning requirements”.

But bidders were also reminded that the PA also “takes into consideration concerns of NGO’s and local groups”.

The confusion among bidders and the general public stems from the fact that Transport Malta has opted to choose a bidder for the marina, before submitting the conclusion of a site-selection exercise or formal planning application, rather than vice-versa. This means that bidders will be chosen before the formal public consultation process has even started, and before an EIA is even commenced let alone concluded.

Moreover the call for bids was accompanied by design plans with 818 berths occupying most of the bay, even though TM insists there is nothing definitive about these drawings.

During the meeting bidders asked for assurances that the project will increase the berths from the existing 67 to 700. TM replied: “The layout of the yacht marina is expected to increase the current berthing capacity to a minimum of at least 700” while the “concessionaire shall be expected to host and provide for a re-organisation of the current 567 berth holders”.

Berthing fees for existing berth-holders will increase after a transitional period, referring to a mechanism by which the present tariff has to be maintained for a certain amount of time, “and then subsequently it will increase as will be permitted by the eventual contract”.

Tender under the lens

The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire, a tendering procedure aimed at choosing a bidder, states that the Marsaskala marina has to be carried out in an “environmentally friendly manner”.

But the document fails to refer to the fact that il-Magħluq is a Natura 2000 site, and that the bay includes protected posidonia meadows. Moreover, 3,000 sq.m of the inner part of the bay next to il-Malgħuq is being proposed to be reclaimed, possibly impacting on the water flow.  There are various areas in the bay in which the sea-bed has to be dredged between 2.5 and 3m.

Curiously, in an indication that the PQQ document is based on older drafts, it refers to the draft local plan of 2005 and not the Approved Local Plan of 2006.

Moreover the document refers to the Structure Plan policies, and not to the SPED which replaced the Structure Plan in July 2015.

It also failed to refer to a document by the former Malta Maritime Authority in 2009 which did not identify Marsaskala as the site for a permanent marina, while instead referring to a 1997 document which also gave this location a low ranking. It also refers to the Coastal Strategy Topic Paper issued in 2002, even if the SPED went into much more in terms of policy then this document.