Gżira Activist Laments Fate Of Manoel Island: ‘It’s A Big Game And Money Has Won’

"Gżira will now turn into a slum and a doormat to the gated community of Manoel Island"

Jamie Mi

A Gżira resident has warned that his town risks turning into a slum in light of the planned development of Manoel Island that was approved by the Planning Authority today.

“Gżira will now turn into a slum and a doormat to the gated community of Manoel Island, kind of like what happened with Paceville and Portomaso,” Jamie Mercieca told Lovin Malta. “After all, who the hell wants to have views of apartments on Manoel Island instead of views of Valletta? It’s a big game and ultimately money wins…money has won today.”

Mercieca recently helped found Nħobbu l-Gżira, the residential group behind a petition for the conversion of Manoel Island into a residential park, which has garnered some 8,000 signatures so far.

However, he said he wasn’t surprised by today’s vote, which saw 13 out of the PA’s 14 board members, including the representatives from PL, PN and the Gżira local council, vote in favour of MIDI’s new masterplan for Manoel Island.

“They are pillaging our island and views, such as of Valletta and Mistra have now become a commodity,” Mercieca said. “Our views are being commoditised to the extent that they’re being sold as a capital asset. Nowadays, I get a fright whenever someone posts a photo of a beautiful view, such as of Golden Bay, because I think that it will only be a matter of time before developers find out how to get their hands on it.”

“I am disappointed with both major political parties. The PN had proposed this development in Parliament back in the day and the PL’s MPs had voted in favour of it. After all these years in which MIDI has repeatedly infringed the contract, neither party took action. Instead of admitting they were wrong in the past and figuring out how to fix things, they have now decided to stick to their mistake.”

Indeed, MIDI was given a concession for the development of both Manoel Island and Tigne Point back in the 1990s. A permit for the development of Manoel Island and Tigme was handed out way back in 1999 and this impending development is enshrined in the Maltese local plans. MIDI has so far focused on the development of Tigne but has now turned its eyes to Manoel Island, with the concession stipulating that it must complete the entire project by 2023.

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However, the proposed project has gone through some important changes since then. Fort Manoel will not be turned into a hotel but a cultural centre, with a hotel built instead on top of the dilapidated Fort Lazaretto. The maximum building height has been decreased from five to four storeys and MIDI must ensure designated swimming zones, open spaces and no commercial activity in the green area. A football pitch will also be built by the sea as the new home pitch of Gżira FC.

These conditions will be scrutinised by the Manoel Island Foundation, which is chaired by environmental activist and lawyer Claire Bonello and which includes Gżira mayor Conrad Borg Manche, deputy mayor Ralph Mangion, and MIDI CEO Mark Portelli.

Borg Manche has taken a pragmatic stance, arguing that while he would rather see no development at all on Manoel Island, there is no way the government was ever going to rip up the contract or MIDI agree to build a national park instead of a luxury village.

In this context, he said the compromises obtained by the Foundation are significant.

“If I kept on insisting that I want it turned into a park, they would have just ignored me and done whatever they wanted,” he said in an interview with Lovin Malta. “In my position as mayor, to safeguard Manoel Island, I therefore had no other option but to deal with what was going to be built and not keep on saying the same thing and get ignored.”

However, Mercieca claimed that Borg Manche and Bonello were conned into the guardianship and are only claiming they got the best deal possible because they don’t want to face their mistakes.

He went all the way back to the Second World War to explain why the mayor should have opposed MIDI’s plans till his last breath.

“The British thought they were going to lose the Second World War but then the tide turned,” he said. “We have 8,000 signatures and if we manage to trigger some political will then there might be a chance that the government could reach an agreement with MIDI. Maybe it won’t buy the land but re-design the whole thing into a national park or review the contract after all these years and all these infringements. We’ve become so ambitious that we’re talking about digging a tunnel from Malta to Gozo.”

“The reality is that when there’s political will, things can be accomplished. Malta is in an economic boom and making money from the sale of citizenship so why not reinvest some of it into the wellbeing of people and safeguard their mental health?”

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Written By

Tim Diacono

Tim Diacono tends to clam up when asked to describe himself. You can contact him on [email protected]