Updated | Environment Minister: 'Don’t tell me you are against land reclamation because you have a sea view that will be lost’

Jose Herrera admonishes opponents of land reclamation, insisting that Malta is too small not to consider reclaiming parts of the sea to increase its open spaces

Jose Herrera's idea of land reclamation: Green open spaces and maybe 'an elegant yacht marina'
Jose Herrera's idea of land reclamation: Green open spaces and maybe 'an elegant yacht marina'

Updated at 7.40pm with Jason Azzopardi explanation

Land reclamation has an ardent supporter in Environment Minister Jose Herrera and this came across very clearly during a meeting of Parliament’s environment committee on Monday.

Herrera went as far as admonishing those concerned about land reclamation, insisting it would be done to increase the country’s open spaces.

“Don’t tell me you are against land reclamation because you have a sea view that will be lost,” he told a bewildered resident from Xgħajra.

Herrera insisted land reclamation should be done to enhance the country’s open spaces. “It will be done for environmental purposes… we need to take a long-term view that benefits society,” he said.

The minister was speaking during a meeting of Parliament’s environment committee that discussed construction waste. The debate was requested by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, who failed to turn up. The only member of the Opposition present was Democratic Party leader Godfrey Farrugia.

Azzopardi later told MaltaToday that he had informed his party Whip a fortnight ago that he would be abroad between Sunday and Wednesday. "I had informed my Whip over two weeks ago and reminded him again yesterday that I would be abroad and thus unable to attend the Environment Committee meeting."

A Xgħajra resident asked about plans for land reclamation off Malta’s south eastern coast and whether social impact assessments would be carried out. “Land reclamation along the coast will impact us,” he said.

The minister responded brashly, insisting no decision had been taken on where, if at all, land reclamation should take place. “Land reclamation to add open spaces will help enhance environmental and social wellbeing,” Herrera rebutted.

He explained that a site selection exercise carried out by the Environment and Resources Authority was only meant to identify those areas where land reclamation is possible.

The Prime Minister had earlier in the day ruled out the area off the Xgħajra coast. Residents in the seaside locality and people living in the neighbouring Marsaskala have signed a petition against any land reclamation in the area.

Concerns were raised after an ERA leaked document showed that the south-eastern coast was one of the acceptable areas for land reclamation. ERA has so far not published the finalised version of the site selection exercise.

READ ALSO: Portomaso also considered as potential land reclamation zone, ERA memo shows and Land reclamation map 'only indicative', says ERA official

Herrera insisted the exercise would identify where the best possible sites are for consideration in the future.

“I agree with land reclamation… if you were to go abroad and tell them you are against land reclamation in a country with such a small territory they will laugh at you,” Herrera said.

He cited as examples countries like Seychelles, Monaco and the Netherlands that had expanded their territories.

“In Monaco, they even transplanted the posedonia meadows to carry out land reclamation in an environmentally-friendly way,” Herrera said.

And his vision for the new territory that will be created is to use it for recreational purposes and possibly an “elegant yacht marina” and a few low-lying houses but definitely not for speculative purposes.

“Malta is at a crossroads… in the Seychelles just 20% of reclaimed land is used to build low rise housing and the rest is afforested,” Herrera said.

During the debate, Malta Developers Association President Sandro Chetcuti asked for the government to consider allowing construction companies to set up depots where construction waste could be stored for recycling. In this way, the waste would be turned into a resource, Chetcuti added.

But Herrera was quick to shut down the argument. “Let me be clear the new policy on construction waste will not allow every quarry to be turned into a depot because there is an obligation to reclaim quarries and return them back to their natural state.”

There are currently 16 quarries licensed to receive construction waste but only two are operating. Herrera explained that some contractors had their own quarry.

“In extremis, I have the power to requisition a quarry’s volume and use it to dump construction waste there while compensating the owner accordingly,” Herrera said.

The committee is chaired by Labour MP Alex Muscat. Parliamentary secretaries Roderick Galdes and Clint Camilleri also attended the committee.

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