12 JUNE 2002
By Kurt Sansone
Anglu Xuereb yesterday launched a glitzy exhibition at St James Cavalier in Valletta, entitled Give Malta Golf, to counteract the negative publicity the proposed Verdala golf course has been getting from environmental groups and farmers.
But in his initial reaction, Friends of the Earth campaigner Julian Manduca told The Malta Financial and Business Times that he was not at all impressed and described the exhibition as a propaganda exercise.
The new PR strategy comes at an important junction in the planning process when the public is being asked to submit comments and reactions to the proposed development. The Malta Environment and Planning Authority has approved the Environment Impact Assessment done by the developer and the public has until the end of July to react to the findings.
Mr Xuereb explained that the golf course would respect the topography of the area and it will also incorporate vineyards, fields and dry stone walls. The project is estimated to create 200 jobs and generate additional tourist spending to the tune of Lm2.8 million.
Mr Xuereb added that the golf course itself would only occupy one third of the land area with another third reserved for agricultural land. The remaining third would be occupied by ecological areas, the clubhouse and roughs between the golf course greens and the farmed land.
One of the negative aspects highlighted by the EIA is the demolition of 15 per cent of the dry stone walls in the area, which cover a length of 15,000 metres. The majority of dry stone walls to be pulled down are in the Gianpula area, which incorporates a stretch of flat land. Mr Xuereb said that none of the walls on the Rabat slope will be removed and a total of 8,500 metres of new dry stone walls would be erected utilising traditional methods.
Dwelling on the amount of water required by the project, Mr Xuereb said that a total of 78,000 cubic metres of water would be needed every year. "To acquire this volume of water we will collect rain water run off, which is currently finding its way to the sea and make up the rest by pumping up the water from existing boreholes close to the golf course," Mr Xuereb explained.
He added that in the initial stages of the EIA the proposal involved the creation of a sewage treatment plant to provide the necessary water. "However, the Water Services Corporation indicated that instead of the sewage treatment plant it would sell us the necessary water from boreholes close by at commercial rates."
On the other hand, FoE activist Julian Manduca shot down the golf course proposal on a number of counts. Mr Manduca pointed out that in the past Anglu Xuereb had boasted about the seriousness of the impact assessment. "It turns out that the boasting was exaggerated because in the end, much had to be changed from the original proposal," Mr Manduca said.
The environmentalist reiterated his organisations reasons for opposing the golf course at Verdala stressing that it goes against the Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands.
"Furthermore, it is socially unacceptable that so much water is being offered by the Water Services Corporation to a private business when similar demands for water were refused to the farmers who work the land at present," Mr Manduca said.
He added that the construction of a golf course at Verdala goes against the Church-State agreement. The land in question is jointly owned by the Vatican and Malta and the farmers are tenants, who cannot be forced off their land.
"Farmers have an important function in Malta and given the fact that agricultural land is diminishing we should not give up more land to development," Mr Manduca stressed.