[WATCH] Land reclamation scepticism justified since developers have been calling the shots for 50 years - Jose Herrera

Jose Herrera promises that as long as he is environment minister, land reclamation, if any at all, will not be used to build skyscrapers and hotels

Environment Minister Jose Herrera (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Environment Minister Jose Herrera (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

If land reclamation is considered, it will not be an excuse to erect “skyscrapers and hotels”, Jose Herrera has promised, at least until he remained environment minister.

In a frank interview with MaltaToday, Herrera reiterated his belief that land reclamation could be used to enhance the country’s open spaces but insisted there were no concrete plans.

A study by the Environment and Resources Authority to identify sites where reclamation could take place with the least environmental consequences was not cast in stone, Herrera added.

“Unfortunately, the study document got leaked but when it is officially released we will discuss it with all stakeholders. Nothing is cast in stone… the study will give the government the information to make the correct decision if the country decides to go for land reclamation, rather than doing it haphazardly,” Herrera said.

He was speaking 24 hours after venting his frustration - during a meeting of Parliament's environment committee - with a resident of Xgħajra, who asked about the impact of any land reclamation in the area on the coastline enjoyed by residents. 

Herrera responded to the concern with the words: “Don’t tell me you are against land reclamation because you have a sea view that will be lost.”

Asked about his outburst, Herrera insisted it was “a non-starter” to argue against a development because it will impact somebody’s view.

“This is like when I had a flat in St Paul’s Bay and somebody decided to build a block of apartments in front of my window. Should I have protested because I could no longer see the [St Paul's] islands? This is a non-starter,” he said.

But the minister did acknowledge that scepticism on land reclamation was justified when asked whether it was simply an excuse to appease the construction industry.

“I understand the scepticism because over the past 50 years we allowed developers to call the shots… we gobbled up ODZ land,” Herrera said.

He promised land reclamation will not be an excuse to build skyscrapers and hotels but a way to have more open space.

“Until I am here it won’t happen,” he said when pressed about the possibility of building luxury apartments on reclaimed land.

“This does not mean that no development will take place but it will be congruent with the environment,” Herrera said.

Herrera is a supporter of land reclamation, having mentioned in Parliament the examples of small countries like Monaco and Seychelles.

When it was pointed out that Monaco spent €2 billion to reclaim 60,000 sq.m. of land from the sea to build 120 apartments, Herrera said the circumstances were incomparable to Malta.

Describing Monaco as a “teeny weeny” city with a short coastline, Herrera said he only used Monaco to illustrate how land reclamation could take place in an environmentally friendly way. “In Monaco, they transplanted sea coral and Posidonia meadows, but the model more akin to Malta is the Seychelles, where reclamation has been used to extend open spaces,” Herrera said.

More in National