Church commission urges political parties to reconsider Gozo tunnel pledge

Tunnel proposal risks destroying Gozo's charm and could prove costly to taxpayers, Church's environment commission warns 

The Church Commission suggested that the tunnel proposal be ditched in favour of a fast ferry service
The Church Commission suggested that the tunnel proposal be ditched in favour of a fast ferry service

The Church’s environment commission (KA) has urged political parties not to rush into building a tunnel between Malta and Gozo and to first study other alternatives to improve connectivity between the two islands.

The Labour and Nationalist parties have both pledged to build a tunnel between Malta and Gozo, arguing that it will benefit Gozitans who are forced to spend several hours commuting between the islands. 

However, the KA called on parties to consider a fast ferry service that ferries passengers from Gozo to the Grand Harbour and other destinations. It also suggested a mix of services, just as a service between Gozo and Cirkewwa which would include new and modern ships together with a fast ferry service between Gozo and other destinations in Malta.

“If these alternatives and others that may be proposed during a public consultation are assessed, it is possible that the financial, economic, environmental, cultural and social impacts of one of the alternatives may be more positive than those of a massive project of a tunnel which during its boring and operations can have major negative impacts,” it said. “This is being said without going into the merits of the relative risks of the tunnel project when compared with the risks associated with its alternatives.”

The KA said that the ferry service will still need to be retained even if the tunnel is constructed, as tourists would still prefer to travel by ferry than through the tunnel and as there would need to be a working alternative to the tunnel in case it needs to be temporarily closed for some reason.

It also warned that such a large project carries the risk of cost variations running into several millions of euro, overruns that will need to be borne by the taxpayer.

Moreover, it warned that a permanent link may lead to Gozo becoming just like Malta “which has lost, in many areas, the beauty of its characteristic landscape”.

It called for full transparency in the decision-making process, the publication of all studies before a decision is taken with interested parties given enough time to analyze them, and a rigorous planning process.

“In the absence of these principles, the KA believes that opinions that will be formed in relation to the best option for an improved accessibility between the islands will not be informed,” it said. “This can lead to a privileged interest group influencing in a disproportionate way a decision which is so important and which will have a permanent impact not only on Gozo and the Gozitans, but on the whole country.”