29 June 2005

The Web

Government pushes Ghajn Tuffieha golf course and artificial islands

Karl Schembri

An 18-hole golf course on 114 hectares of garigue in Ghajn Tuffieha and two artificial islands along Malta’s east coast are the visionary projects uniting the tourism and environment ministries under the coordination of the Office of the Prime Minister for the months to come.
The plans, so far still on paper, were presented yesterday in a joint press conference given by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, Environment Minister George Pullicino and Tourism Minister Francis Zammit Dimech, with the latter dozing off during key moments of the extensive presentations.
The artificial islands are being proposed in ix-Xghajra ta’ Haz Zabbar and opposite the Maghtab rubbish dump following a study commissioned by MEPA to Carl Bro, although the feasibility studies and environmental impact studies still have to be carried out.
Pullicino said land reclamation would give a temporary alternative means for construction waste disposal, although the actual use and feasibility of these islands still has to be studied.
In their report, Carl Bro say that any land reclamation project will inevitably leave an impact on coastal zones, particularly because of dense posidonia oceanica communities.
The site for a golf course in Ghajn Tuffieha was earmarked after Air Malta passed on its Hal Ferh complex to central government, following a previous short listing exercise of other sites by MEPA to be considered for golf courses.
The golf course project will be spearheaded by the Malta Tourism Authority, which will now be commissioning an Environmental Impact Assessment and apply for the MEPA permits before issuing a call for interests by April next year. The government land will be leased to the developer.
Pullicino said good agricultural land on site will be excluded from the development but vast amounts of garigue will be affected.
“The site is not scheduled but part of it is ecologically sensitive,” Pullicino admitted. “But the site is large enough to design the course in such a way that it will not have an adverse impact on the most sensitive parts of the area.”
Pullicino actually said that any proposal on the site “may serve as a catalyst for a management plan for the coastal protected area so as to ensure environmental enhancement, thus creating a win-win situation”.
Tourism Minister Francis Zammit Dimech said he expected 30,000 golfers to come every year for the new golf course, although when asked how he arrived at the figure he said he got it from “industry sources”.
“MTA will then choose who will develop the area,” Zammit Dimech said. “The model we are going to use is similar to that used in St George’s Bay. The developers will be restricted by the permit conditions, while at the same time have the peace of mind that the necessary permits for a golf course would be issued.”
MTA Executive Chairman Romwald Lungaro-Mifsud said: “There is a negative perception about golf courses and their impact on the environment, which is untrue. If research is carried out as it should there should be no negative impact, and it’s important that this message is put through.”
The prime minister said that at least two other golf courses – one is already being proposed in Ta’ Cenc, Gozo – were needed to enhance the overall tourist package and safeguard jobs in the tourism industry.

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