Informed discussion on the Gozo tunnel has yet to start – NGOs

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Informed discussion on the Gozo tunnel has yet to start - NGOsEleven organisations held a press conference in Valletta this morning, where they stated that an informed discussion about the Gozo-Malta tunnel has yet to start.

The NGOs involved are: Ramblers Association, Din l-Art Helwa, Archaeological Society Malta, Moviment Graffitti, Birdlife Malta, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Bicycle Advocacy Group, Ghaqda Sigar Maltin, Isles of the Left and Zminijietna.

The organisations stated that a decision on whether a tunnel is the best solution to mobility challenges should only be taken after independent, serious and holistic studies have been conducted.

They acknowledged the need to address mobility challenges experienced by Gozitan workers and students, however, they went on to express their disagreement with declarations that “the discussion about the Gozo-Malta tunnel is closed and that we are now at an ‘implementation stage.”

The NGOs argued that the discussion has not even begun as there is currently a total lack of studies and information on the utility and impacts of the tunnel. “Indeed, it has not even been established whether a tunnel will actually facilitate mobility between the two islands.”

They added that a decision on whether a tunnel is the best solution to mobility challenges should only be taken after independent, serious and holistic studies have been conducted.

“The public has a right to participate in meaningful consultation, and to be provided with information on this subject to develop an informed opinion,” they stated.

The impression given by the Project Description Statement published by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is that the tunnel “will provide a seamless connection between Malta and Gozo. However, in practice, this won’t necessarily be the case,” the NGOs argued.

What is being proposed, they said, is a relatively narrow tunnel with one lane in each direction. Considering that up to 9,000 cars will pass through the tunnel daily. The NGOs pointed out that, “coupled with the fact that the tunnel itself might have capacity limitations due to safety issues, the possibility of queueing remains.”

They pointed out that any studies should determine whether the tunnel will indeed reduce the average journey times between Malta and Gozo, taking into account the capacity of the tunnel itself, as well as higher congestion along the routes leading to it.

“The tunnel option should also be compared with other options in terms of costs, impacts and efficacy,” said the NGOs. “For example, a fast-ferry service providing frequent trips from Gozo to different parts of the Maltese island has to be seriously considered.”

They also said that a tunnel “will inevitably lead to the northern part of the Maltese island, with Gozitans having to then travel all the way to their place of work or study, possibly encountering increased traffic jams along the way.”

They argued that a fast-ferry service might address this in ways that the tunnel cannot. “The best solution for improving the connectivity between the two islands can only be determined through studies that consider and compare all possible options.”

The NGOs went on to say that the tunnel option should also be assessed from a financial sustainability perspective. “While the exact costs of the tunnel have not yet been determined, it is estimated that construction costs can hit the 300 million mark,” they said.

Additionally, a tunnel requires millions of euros annually to monitor, maintain and operate. Assertions that the tunnel will be privately funded in its entirety are unrealistic, they stated.

The organisations remarked that if the toll is to remain affordable, constant and significant Government subsidies will be inevitable. Studies should determine the extent of these subsidies and their long-term sustainability.

It is essential that studies about the tunnel are not limited to the construction and operation of the tunnel itself, they said, but taken with a broad view of its impacts.

They added that for instance, studies should establish the ripple effect of the tunnel on Gozitan society and its economy, environment and infrastructure, as a result of the rise in cars and in speculative development pressures.

The NGOs pointed out that the tunnel is expected to impact the environment on many levels. Prior to deciding on the tunnel option, the full extent of its environmental impacts on Malta and Gozo should be assessed, taking into account factors such as:

the take-up of arable and natural land for the two entrances and for ancillary road networks, which is bound to be high

the generation of an unprecedented volume of waste, estimated to be in excess of one million cubic meters

the direct and indirect effects on at least four Natura 2000 sites, two of which include the Nature Reserves of Simar and Ghadira

the potential devastating effects on the Mizieb/l-Imbordin uncontaminated perched aquifer, which has provided water for the Pwales valley for millennia

the possible destruction and/or contamination of the Pwales aquifer, which at present yields about six million cubic metres of water per annum

the increase in traffic and pollution, and its impact on the natural environment and the quality of life, in both Malta and Gozo

noise and vibrations resulting from excavation works and their impact on the seabed and on the surrounding habitats

the availability of cycling infrastructure which, if lacking, would force commuters to travel by car instead.

The NGOs stated that the current proposal, which places the Malta tunnel portal close to the quaint hamlet of l-Imbordin, also raises a number of serious archaeological concerns.

“The l-Imbordin area contains natural and partly enlarged cave dwellings, probably dating to a pre-Knights period, and is also known for its Knights’ period giardini.” The NGOs added that both the cave dwellings and the giardini “will likely be threatened by the excavation of the tunnel entrance and its infrastructure.”

They stated that the dwellings have been used for centuries and are in good condition. Moreover, the identification of archaeological remains in the area is ongoing.

“Considering the undeniable large-scale impact of the tunnel, we call for a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA), to be carried out before proceeding with any further plans,” said that NGOs. “The SEA is a legal obligation for any plan or programme prepared by government which is likely to have a significant effect on the environment.”

According the the NGOs “this has the aim of predicting environmental impacts, evaluating reasonable alternatives and mitigation measures, engaging in broad consultation and influencing the plans by addressing environmental issues at an early stage.”

They argued that it is only after the necessary studies are concluded and published that a meaningful discussion on the Gozo-Malta tunnel can begin. These studies should provide answers to several important questions, including:

Taking into account capacity limitations and the increase in traffic, will the tunnel actually reduce the journey times between the two islands?

How does the tunnel option compare to other possible options, such as a fast-ferry service, in terms of efficacy, costs and impacts?

Are the short-term and long-term costs of the tunnel financially sustainable? How will the tunnel effect Gozitan society, economy, environment and infrastructure?

What is the full extent of the tunnel’s impact on the environment?

The eleven NGOs pointed out that at this stage, we have nothing that shows that the tunnel will effectively address mobility challenges, and that its social, economic and environmental impacts will be sustainable.

They concluded by saying, that they look forward to actively participating in an informed discussion on this subject.

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    1 Response

    1. Charlotte Makin says:

      Finally, the voice of common sense is speaking. Let’s hope that all of the criteria are looked at in great detail before anything is decided upon, my thoughts and hopes are that the tunnel will not go ahead, and that a selection of frequent fast ferry services between the islands (arriving at ports in the areas that commuters and students require, not just one location) will be the answer. This is quite obviously the most cost effective, practical and environmentally friendly option that will suit everyone.

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