Manoel Island: minimising the effects on Gżira – Arnold Cassola

When, in the year 2000, Minister Francis Zammit Dimech proposed to Parliament the giveaway contract of Manoel Island and Tigné, to MIDI, not one single MP of the 65 composing the House of Representatives dared oppose it. All 65 PN and PL members of the 2000 Parliament were an accomplice to one of the biggest land grabs in the history of our country.

In the 18 years that followed, MIDI proved to one and all that their only concern was making a quick buck, without any respect for the surrounding environment and quality of life of the residents of Sliema. So much so that, looking back at the concrete mess his company had created, the former MIDI chief, Albert Mizzi, in 2012, declared that, “To be honest with you, today I have second thoughts about how it looks from Valletta myself. As an individual I am not totally happy with it”.  

It is now imperative that MIDI learn from their atrocious mistakes at Tigné and not repeat them on Manoel Island.

As part of the Environmental Impact Assessment for Manoel Island, the Environment and Resources Authority commissioned a Visual Impact Assessment to gauge the impact on the landscape of the project from various vantage points. This report (the Conrad report) was a sort of vox pop conducted in December of 2017 and January 2018 during which the writer interviewed a number of passers­by, showing them photomontages and asking questions.

The writer emphasised repeatedly in the report itself that the “survey is not representative of the population of the area or of the Maltese population” (p111).

My main concern in this article is the impact on the landscape as viewed from Triq ix-Xatt (The Strand), Sliema and Gżira. These are viewpoints 7 and 9 from the report. Viewpoint 7 is located in Sliema opposite the Black Gold Pub, while viewpoint 9 is opposite Triq Ponsomby in Gżira. 

With regard to viewpoint 7, the writer says there will be a major change in the directly visible view, primarily because of the new constructions (as part of the residential Marina Village). The author continues that “the westernmost extent of these buildings will be visible from this vantage point… These buildings (Marina Village) will also obscure much of the present-day view of the Yacht Marina and of the Gżira/Ta’ Xbiex shoreline from this vantage point.” 

He concludes that the “magnitude of visual impact from this viewpoint is considered to be high”

Viewpoint 7: The impact on the landscape as viewed from Triq ix-Xatt (The Strand), Sliema and Gżira.

Viewpoint 7
In the case of viewpoint 9, the author remarks that “The height of the buildings (Marina Village) obscures views of the Yacht Marina and of the wider built-up area beyond Gżira and Ta’ Xbiex. The view will be further altered as a result of the proposed reclamation works in the area of the Yacht Marina, which will effectively narrow the distance bet­ween the vantage point and the start of the terrestrial area of Manoel Island.”

The conclusion is that “the resultant change in the visual scene… is therefore substantial, with new elements occupying much of the view and with obstruction of present long-distance views. The magnitude of change is therefore considered high” (p85).

Viewpoint 9: A close-up of the artist’s impression of buildings in the proposed Marina Village and new bridge.

Viewpoint 9
Conrad describes “the negative aspects pointed out by respondents related primarily to the principle of development in the area and/or to the extent, density, design and/or style of the proposed development. This cri­ti­­cism was directed mostly at the proposed residential apartments, referred to by a number of res­pondents as ‘boxy’. The design of the proposed bridge connection also attracted some criticism.

Other points of criticism in­cluded the fact that the development would block or alter some views, perceived lack of attractiveness, and perceived lack of adequacy of public and green spaces.” (p116).

In conclusion, the author noted that “several of the impacts identified cannot be mitigated to any significant degree… For the most part, significant impacts could only be mitigated through substantial redesign of the pro­ject, and particularly of the building developments around the proposed marina village” (p118).

It is mind boggling how the ERA and the PA’s case officer reco­mmended the design when the reports and studies on the landscape are so negative. Even the report recommends a “substantial redesign of the project”.

In actual fact, Conrad did not assess the impact of the loss of approximately half the Gżira promenade for the construction of a new and bigger bridge. Half the public benches will be lost. In addition, the heart of Gżira, between Triq Manoel de Vilhena and Triq Ponsomby, will be­come a junction, dominated by one huge roundabout.

Roundabouts create traffic jams and this does not bode well for the quality of life of the Gżira Waterfront and the people who live there. All one has to do is look at the traffic jams being caused by the Kappara roundabout when entering Gżira through Sliema Road. Now another choke point is being proposed for Triq ix-Xatt.

At the last PA meeting, Gżira residents proposed several re­designs to the masterplan to preserve the promenade, which is a major common good, as well as the relocation of the proposed sports facilities to the western tip of Manoel Island, thus bringing these facilities into the heart of the Gżira community. The road junctions can be improved without the need for a roundabout.

I am here reproducing the con­clusion of the Conrad re­port: “Given comments made during the course of survey administration, and given an evident strong degree of attachment to the locality by several respondents, particularly those resident in the area and/or with childhood memories linked to Manoel Island, it is also strongly recommended that dialogue with the local community is maintained throughout the planning process.”

These words do not need any further comment.

Arnold Cassola
Published in the Times of Malta – Sunday 6 January