03 March 2004

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MHRA agrees golf course should be sited on degraded land

The recent barrage of pro and anti-golf course letters in the press has resuscitated an issue that was once a cause celebre but had taken a back seat in recent months.
Spearheading the pro-golf faction are former tourism minister Michael Refalo and the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association.
The golf course application nearest to a decision is the one applied for by AX Holdings for one near the Verdala hotel in Rabat and many pro-golf course messages could have been interpreted as supporting that cause.
MHRA’s president Winston J Zahra, told the Malta Financial and Business Times that it was concerned about Malta’s environment and explained that choosing the right location for a golf course was important.
Zahra said: “The MHRA supports the idea of a golf course in Malta due to the fact that such a facility will open up opportunities for us to tap a very lucrative market which today cannot be tapped due to the lack of golf facilities. “The MHRA however also puts a great deal of importance on the overall environment of the Island, an environment which needs to be greatly improved from the state it is in today both for us as Malta as well as for the visitors who choose to visit us. Unfortunately many people in Malta view golf courses and the environment as directly conflicting.
“The MHRA does not share this view and strongly believes that a golf course can be developed while safeguarding, if not improving, the environment. Hence the most important aspect in the development of a golf course would be the choice of the location to place such a facility.”
According to Structure Plan policy permits for golf course should be considered on degraded land or land that requires environmental improvement, and Zahra said the MHRA supports that policy: “The MHRA would support this policy. We have never suggested that such a policy be ignored. What we have done as MHRA is voiced our opinion on the advantages of an additional golf course to the tourism industry on our island.
“However, the MHRA feels that the negative sentiment that exists locally about this subject would lead to an uprise wherever an application for a golf course is made for, whether the environment is improved or not. It is unfortunate that we cannot be more objective on this island.”
Quizzed as to MHRA’s concern for the farmers that farm the land which Angelo Xuereb wants for his golf course Zahra said: “It is not for the MHRA to comment on what a land owner does with his land, it is up to the owner to do what he feels is best with his property.
“Of course the MHRA would not like to see any one harmed in such a process, however this is for the land owner and the user of the land to sort out between them. What is definitely unhealthy is when procrastination and lack of decisions from the authorities delay this process and everyone is left in a situation of uncertainty as to what is going to happen. These issues should not be left pending for so long for the good of all involved.”
If a permit is granted to a developer for a golf course on agricultural that is being tilled by farmers, all the farming community could worry that ‘their’ land could be next. Zahra commented: “The fact is that golf courses can be developed without necessarily affecting farmers or any other worker locally. In fact a golf course will have very positive effects on employment in general.”
Doubts have been shed on the reliability of studies which indicate golf courses as being financially beneficial to Malta. The anti-golf lobby has claimed that in the studies carried out so far it is not at all clear that the benefits of golf outweigh the social and environmental costs. The Front Kontra il Golf Kors, which is made up of many NGOs, also points to the studies presented to support the Verdala golf course application in which it is claimed that since 22 per thousand Britains play golf, then 22 per thousand British tourists visiting Malta will play golf here.
The Front points out that golf players are typically very rich and will not necessarily visit Malta – especially since many more attractive golf resorts exist.
Asked whether the MHRA had studies of its own that indicated golf would be beneficial to Malta, Zahra said: “The MHRA has not conducted a study to evaluate the impact of golf tourism to Malta. However from observing the international visitor flows brought about by golf as a sport and from discussing the matter with our counterparts within HOTREC (the Federation of Hotels, Restaurants and Cafes in Europe) it is painfully obvious that the benefits would be substantial. “Moreover many local hotels are affiliated to international chains and work very closely with the sales organisations of these chains. The people within the sales organisations of the chains continually tell us about the opportunities we are missing out on due to the lack of golfing facilities. “Additionally, very many requests, especially for conference and incentive business, have been lost due to the fact that Malta cannot offer golf as an activity during the conference. The MHRA does not need a study to be convinced on the benefits of a golf course in Malta, however would be willing to conduct such research if such research would be viewed objectively by the anti golf lobby.”

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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