Gzira mayor, activists break through Manoel Island fence to demand public access

Mayor Conrad Borg Manche joins Kamp Emergenza Ambjent to cut through fence at Manoel Island installed by the MIDI consortium • Alternattiva Demokratika leader to attend camp protest 

Activists fight for public's right to access foreshore
Activists fight for public's right to access foreshore
Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manche and Salvu Mallia look on as KEA activists break through the fence
Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manche and Salvu Mallia look on as KEA activists break through the fence
The view of Valletta from Manoel Island
The view of Valletta from Manoel Island

Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manche this morning joined a group of environmental activists as they broke through the gates and fences of Manoel Island, in a protest demanding public access to the area.

The activists from Kamp Emergenza Ambjent cut through the metal fencing using pliers. The barricades were installed by the MIDI consortium, who was granted a concession to develop the island and Tigne back in 2000.

They walked along a path by the coast bordering Marsamxett Harbour, finally setting up camp outside Fort Manoel, where they plan to stay the night. 

'Access reopened': Activists celebrate following successful action
'Access reopened': Activists celebrate following successful action

The activists urged the public to join them in their protest, and indeed it was not long before people started answering their call.

“At last, we can visit Manoel Island again, thank you so much” a Gzira resident told Borg Manche as he entered the gates along with his young daughter and dog.

The police were sent on site, but left after having a quick word with Borg Manche. 

“I told them that we weren’t breaking the law, and that MIDI has been breaking the law by closing off public access to the foreshore for the last 16 years,” the PL mayor told MaltaToday. “They nodded and drove off.”

Manoel Island, now open
Manoel Island, now open

Activist Ruth Chircop said that the Manoel Island situation is emblematic of “the ugly situation in Malta whereby the rich and powerful take over public spaces, and close off access to the coast and other places that should be the public's by right,

“Prior to the government concession that was granted to MIDI, people were able to use Manoel Island unhindered, and many have memories associated with this place, as one of the few open spaces in a congested and heavily built-up area,” she said.

“It is an utter disgrace that MIDI has been allowed to close access to the foreshore, while using Manoel Island, including its historical fortress, for exclusive private activities against payment.” 

Alternattiva Demokratika leader Arnold Cassola endorsed the protest and pledged to head down to Manoel Island later this afternoon to show his party’s solidarity with the cause.

“It is appalling that after having created a horrible concrete monster on the Tigne’ Peninsula, MIDI have also occupied and kept to themselves the public foreshore that has been closed down for the past 16 years,” he said in a Facebook post. 

Environmental NGO Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar also came out in favour of the protest, noting that it had in June proposed the conversion of Manoel Island into a national park under the Public Domain Act.

“To date, the Planning Authority has made no progress on its processing despite its obligation to do so as specified in the Public Domain Act,” FAA coordinator Astrid Vella said. “Manoel Island’s inclusion as public domain would not only contribute to an improved quality of life by granting the public the right to green public spaces but will furthermore contribute to their physical and mental well-being, with the site acting as the sole wooded area in the over-urbanized and congested North Harbour region.”

The Gzira local council has filed a judicial protest against MIDI to demand that the development consortium open up Manoel Island’s foreshore to the public. 

“Gzira is located by the sea and yet residents have nowhere else to swim in their own locality, besides Manoel Island,” Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manche told MaltaToday. “The foreshore belongs to the public, and MIDI should enclose a space by the Sliema front where residents can swim.” 

The judicial protest, signed by lawyers Edward Woods and Keith Borg, accuses MIDI of blocking off access to the foreshore to the detriment of Gzira residents. 

It notes that a 99-year emphyteusis granted to MIDI back in June 2000 for the regeneration of Manoel Island and Tigne specifically excluded the island’s foreshore. 

The emphyteusis was granted to MIDI on condition that they regenerate the two former military bases of Tigne and Manoel Island.

However, while it restored Fort Manoel, the consortium focused most of its energy into developing Tigne into a high-end residential and commercial centre.

Their original plans for Manoel Island were to develop it into a marina village, complete with a marina, a boutique hotel, leisure and sports facilities, and a casino.

MIDI chief executive Luke Coppini admitted last year that the project could cost up to €500 million, which could force MIDI to rope in a majority shareholder. He told MaltaToday last week that a "very high" level of interest exists among potential investors for the project.

The concession binds MIDI into developing both Manoel Island and Tigne by March 2023. If it fails to comply, it will be fined €350 per day for the first six months of delay, rising to €1165 per day after six months. If the delay persists for three years, the government will be obliged to tear up the entire contract.

Last week, around 200 Gzira residents and activists gathered in protest outside the Manoel Island gates to demand public access to the foreshore.