OPINION | Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Now that the euphoria over the general election has subsided it is time to calmly reflect on the number of electoral promises made by this new team of young Turks all eager to set the ball in motion under the motto ‘Yes, together everything is possible.’
The race for the best ideas on how to regenerate the inner harbour area was championed by both parties. The winning party professed a master plan which incorporates 20 new capital projects.
This approach to rehabilitation is based on research conducted by Mimcol. The projects are listed in the Grand Harbour roadmap and we are eager to know who will be the minister in charge of government investments.
Certainly Austin Gatt, who was steering the project was most qualified under the previous administration. It is true that a superior effort is needed to get the ball rolling.
The plan includes a farsighted plan for the removal of all heavy industrial activity from the Senglea side of French creek, where the current quay will be upgraded and expected to be converted into a new cruise liner terminal.
The Three Cities are bound to get a major boost from cruise liner tourism, which is growing year after year. Will this revive the old traditional dg_ajsa service from and to the city?
The whole plan would require a parallel project to improve mobility and access in and around the Grand Harbour.
Will Mepa reconsider the cable car project proposed by the Viset Consortium, connecting the Pinto Sea Port to Valletta? This is similar to the successful cable car connection linking an island to the Singapore mainland. With some modifications to the original plans to respect the surroundings, it is more than certain that city planners who have seen the massive cable transportation project in action in Singapore can agree to the adoption of the cable car project.
The new government needs to work hard to have it delivered in time to improve accessibility to the City.
It is also rumoured that Dock No. 2 will be converted and used for the repair and maintenance of super yachts, extending the current super yacht operation, which is now limited to Dock No. 3. It has been some time since we were promised that the area around and including Dock No. 1 was up for a complete refurbishment. Mepa will also be closely watched when it will finally review and approve or amend the architectural designs and eventually tenders will be awarded for the job to start later on this year.
A lot has been achieved over the past 10 years in converting the Cottonera Waterfront into a successful business hub including a marina and a casino. The proposed hotel is soon to be started as permits have received the green light although the unsightly looking apartments replete with grey steel girdles on their front facing Fort St Angelo still await residents.
Evidently, since the war most of the dockside areas in Cospicua became neglected and subject to high levels of deprivation. However, increasing pressure for land in the three Cities for new buildings has increased the political pressure to spruce up the harbour neighbourhood.
Back to the cable car idea one may comment that one of the priorities of the new Gonzi government is to revisit the Connections Project, which incorporated innovative, provocative and functional concepts to mobilise land and sea transportation. Such an ambitious plan helps solve the serious mobility issues pertaining to Valletta.
Cruise liner agents have been making a case for more facilities to enable more ships to make it to port as the current quay is practically operating at full capacity and the VISET consortium, which runs the terminal, have often publicly lamented that they had to turn down business because of lack of capacity.
Additionally the project will include the restoration and rehabilitation of buildings, the upgrading of public areas and possibly the demolition and redevelopment of specific buildings. Urban design is a crucial factor in providing free-flow and permeability of the city and public or common spaces.
This is a long term plan which would generate millions when in operation. If we play our cards well the financing of the project may also attract EU funds as has happened in other overseas ports.
Again, Mepa even under new management still needs its time to digest the scheme and various plans before issuing permits while various buildings require immediate intervention as a result of their present state of decay.
Yet time is not a resource which is abundant in our case since such a site has suffered so much deterioration over the years that it now cries out loud for restoration. The million dollar question is where are the funds coming from?
Once Government is bent on keeping the budget within the straight and narrow, and I applaud this, then the only way out is a public/private partnership with a sharing of the spoils.
It is positive that both political parties are in tandem on the regeneration of the Grand Harbour area although each have their own perspective.
Ideally we can wake up one morning and witness a connection project linking Rinella and Smart City, the Cottonera and the Valletta waterfront as one contiguous development.
However, the country should not repeat the same mistake twice. Government was warned us not to repeat the mistakes in design quoting the over crowding and marring of the Sliema coastline partly due to the over crowding, which is visible from the Valletta side of MIDI project in Tigne’ and others that will be built soon. The positive side is that the price we had to pay for this uglification of the Tigne point is the restoration of the fort on Manoel Island and Lazarreto.
Both suffer from years of neglect and with some imagination and good design can be put into commercial use while retaining their historical heritage.
One such use could easily be the conversion of the fort’s inner spaces into a financial centre like the one in Dublin docklands. Imagine if we can attract a multiple of international banks on the island and house them together with the MFSA within the historical setting. Added to the mobility of the connections project ,we can boast of an efficient yet Spartan ferry service akin to the one found in Hong Kong.
Mepa is in for a hard time. Any designs have to blend and respect the aesthetic value and historical significance of the area while ensuring functional considerations of a busy cruise liner terminal and a promenade with multifarious commercial, cultural and leisure activities.
Yet, even in the times of the Knights of Malta , when the GDP was nowhere where it is today they spared no expense and engaged the best architects to erect palaces and auberges in baroque splendour. While mindful that the fortified city and surrounding inlets had to serve its purpose in view of changing trends yet this is a jewel in our crown which our forefathers have bequeathed us.
It is now our responsibility to restore it to its former glory.
12 March 2008
ISSUE NO. 526