Publish studies on Gozo tunnel alternatives, Church urges government

​The Church said there is currently no reliable information available to the public to help it make an informed analysis of the possible alternatives to a tunnel

All studies on alternatives to a Gozo-Malta tunnel should be published, the Church has urged the government
All studies on alternatives to a Gozo-Malta tunnel should be published, the Church has urged the government

The Church is calling on the government to publish all the studies on alternatives to the Gozo tunnel and to indicate which of these would offer the most environmental, social, economic and operational sustainability.

It said the government should also make known the opportunities for new jobs and investment which could be created by going for one or more of those alternatives instead of the tunnel, and whether there are factors which would still deter investors from investing in Gozo should those options be implemented.

In a statement Thursday, the Interdiocesan Environment Commission (KA) said that, at present, there exists no sound and reliable information in the public domain which could help people make an informed analysis of the possible alternatives which would truly lead to better accessibility between Malta and Gozo.

“The public is currently being fed information and assertions that are not backed by readily available evidence,” KA said, “Past promises of a fast ferry service and that of a fourth ship in the Gozo Channel fleet are as yet, unfulfilled. Moreover, the helicopter emergency service operating between the Gozo General Hospital and Mater Dei Hospital has deteriorated.”

In the absence of an improvement in the existing service and/or the introduction of new services which do not require a hefty capital expenditure when compared to a tunnel, arguments in favour of the latter become stronger, as the other options are not considered, let alone evaluated, it highlighted.

“The KA reiterates what it said about the subject in October 2013: before reaching a final decision on the project, the charge one would be obliged to pay for the service has to be carefully studied and made public.”

It said that the tunnel’s economic aspect has to be studied in detail, and would have to go beyond the concept that better accessibility (whatever the means adopted) may solve all the economic and investment challenges of Gozo.

There are various factors which determine whether investors decide to invest in Gozo or not, and none of these factors may be solved by a tunnel, KA pointed out, as it remarked that it would be looking forward to the publication of the full Cost-Benefit Analysis of the various alternative options to a tunnel.

KA went on to underline that a project for better accessibility between the two islands is of national strategic importance, and should be decided in a context ensuring better quality of life, sustainability and national economic development

“The principle that the people of our islands should have an equitable adequate access to administrative, educational, health and transport services, is absolute and should not be conditioned by the presence of any one means of connectivity,” it emphasised.

Local plans for both Gozo and for the whole country should be published, it said, so development zone boundaries are secured. Moreover, the government should revise the Rural Policy and Design Guidance, and the Fuel Stations Policy to ensure that the countryside will no longer be subjected to the abuse it is currently undergoing under the existing policies, it said.

Environment assessment rules should be followed strictly

The Church went on to urgesthe Planning Authority, the Environment and Resources Authority, the Strategic Environment Assessment Focal Point and Transport Malta to ensure that the Environmental Impact Assessment and the Strategic Environment Assessment Directives be “strictly adhered to without any legalistic stratagems similar to those used in the case of the changes made to the Smart City masterplan.”

“The KA appeals to the Department of Contracts and to the Auditor General to ensure that the procedure for the choice of any option/s for better accessibility between the two islands be truly above board, and that it gives good value for money for the development of Gozo. Above all, the selected option should not create negative impacts which would then have to be endured by Gozo and the Gozitans.”

More in National