Gzira mayor gives MIDI’s Manoel Island revamp the thumbs-up

After eight months, Gzira Mayor and MIDI group see eye to eye over Manoel Island's masterplan which will turn it into 'Malta's green island'

Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manché has welcomed a revised masterplan for the Manoel Island project, which is now earmarking 80,000 square metres for a public park.

Borg Manché, who led a protest of Gzira residents against the closure of the Manoel Island coastline by developers MIDI, said the revised plans would turn the island into a cultural centre open to the public.

“We worked with MIDI and amended their proposals to create a more holistic island. We want Manoel Island to be Malta’s green island,” Borg Manché said.

MIDI faced public outcry back in March after publishing plans that included a hotel at Fort Manoel, an extensive shopping complex and a casino-hotel at the historic Lazaretto among other proposals. Speaking at the time, in response to the backlash, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had said he wanted the island to be a “green lung”, insisting that he didn’t want the community to feel a stranger to the area.

Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manché
Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manché

Borg Manché, together with Kamp Emergenza Ambjent and Moviment Graffiti, later led a successful protest to forcibly reopen an illegally closed area that had kept the foreshore inaccessible to the public for 16 years.

“We fought for a greener plan for the area, hoping for the island to be an open space for the public. It is the only place of its kind we have left In Malta,” Borg Manché said.

Earlier this week, the MIDI group published a revised masterplan for the restoration and redevelopment of Manoel Island, which included a public park of over 80,000 square metres in area.

“In response to valuable feedback received from the broader community, the Gzira Local Council, and the NGOs, architects Foster + Partners significantly amended the earlier masterplan for Manoel Island,” MIDI said on its website.

The company said the new masterplan will make Fort Manoel “a centre for Culture and the Arts, comprising galleries, museums, shops, restaurants and a Parade Ground for open-air events.”

The Lazaretto will still be restored and turned into a five-star hotel, with serviced apartments.

The plans also envisage the creation of “animated retail offering sensitively designed around the Island’s open public spaces”. The company claims this will not be a shopping centre complex.

The new plans include an upgrade of the south shore yacht marina, underground vehicle parking and public spaces at street level “connecting the pedestrianised streets to a series of open spaces and piazzas for the enjoyment of the general public.”

Borg Manché, however, said the new plan will turn the island into a cultural centre for the Maltese people, and that people will now be able to walk and bike around the public space. Two bridges will lead into the island, one with access for cars and one for pedestrians, and the island would be mostly pedestrianised.

“We want the public to be able to enjoy the island,” he said. “There will be a hotel and some outlets, but it will essentially be a cultural area for people to enjoy”.

Most of all, Borg Manché said he wanted to safeguard the greenery around the island. He said the council had refuted the plan to build up the green area, and it will now be turned into an open park for the public to enjoy, with nothing built on the area except a small extension. He said the Gzira council insisted on a height limitation of three to four levels for the new buildings, and as a result the residential component of the development will be concentrated “at the western part of the island and will comprise a series of low rise urban blocks”.

He said the council also refused to have permanent water taxis around the island. “Water taxis would dirty the sea,” he said. “People will be able to swim around the island instead.”

Borg Manché said he wanted open access even during construction, so that the people would be able to enjoy the island. He said an official announcement would be made soon, and that the council would be involved throughout the process to ensure the plan stays on track.

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