[WATCH] ‘Land reclamation cannot be excuse for construction waste crisis’ – MP

Environment minister indicates he will present ‘vision and idea’ for land reclamation in Malta

Jason Azzopardi and José Herrera
Jason Azzopardi and José Herrera

Shadow environment minister Jason Azzopardi has warned against using land reclamation as an excuse for Malta’s construction waste crisis.

Azzopardi, speaking on TVM’s XTRA, said the Opposition saw land reclamation only as a measure of last resort and then only after years-long studies when any alternative has been exhausted.

“What is clear at this point is that land reclamation has become an issue ever since the Corinthia deal started being discussed in the House committee,” Azzopardi said, referring to the growing unease over Malta’s construction waste problem and a recent site selection exercise by the Environment and Resources Authority to identifying areas of land reclamation.

The former Nationalist administration had commissioned the Scott Wilson report which had warned of a limited amount of suitable sites in Malta for land reclamation.

Azzopardi was also instantly critical of a suggestion by Malta developers’ lobby boss Sandro Chetcuti, that artificial reefs could be developed for touristic purposes and as a solution to the construction waste generated by the construction of the Gozo underwater tunnel.

“Creating artificial islands requires deep water foundations. Financially, this is crazy: who is ready to spend millions upon millions for an island when previous studies identified just Bahar ic-Caghaq and Xghajra as suitable areas, and even then, faced problems due to the presence of particular avifauna and protected Posidonia meadows,” Azzopardi said.

A Sweco report in 2008 had also identified the cost of an artificial island at €300 million – a cost that also tallies with the €300 million tag on the Gozo tunnel.

Environment minister José Herrera did not rule out the creation of land reclaimed structures. “The aim of land reclamation should be that they are sustainable, of benefit to the environment as well as being economically viable… in Europe, 25% of waste is construction, and 8% of GDP is building industry; in Malta, waste from construction is over 60% and GDP is 4%... so we are currently dumping construction waste inside quarries as a way of restoring spent quarries – but surely, this is not merely waste, but a way of restoring the environment.”

Herrera also said that no site had yet been selected for land reclamation, answering to concerns by Xghajra’s Labour mayor Anthony Valvo, who complained that the council was not consulted on any studies. “The majority of residents are against land reclamation – back in 2006, we had been consulted, and only Bahar ic-Caghaq was then selected as a possible site for land reclamation,” Valvo said.

Herrera insisted that nothing was cast in stone. “Before anything happens, consultation will take place. Just give me a chance to present my vision and idea, even if it is to be rejected… new technologies today allows us to relocate coral and underwater environments, to mitigate the environmental damage of land reclamation. The situation is not like it was 20 years ago.”

But Azzopardi said he did not want to accept the creation of artificial islands as a necessary effect of Malta’s pro construction policies. “It would be putting the horse before the cart. Labour steamed ahead with this policy without a strategy for construction waste – which is why I am going to put this up for discussion in a House committee. Let us discuss how we are going to reduce construction waste, not ‘solve’ it by going for land reclamation.”

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