The time to plan for Gozo's future is now

As integral both islands may be to the country, Gozo is distinct from Malta. Ivan Fava, from Malta’s Planning Authority, shares his thoughts on why a tailor-made approach for Gozo’s development is fundamental


Much of Gozo’s rural and coastal beauty has been preserved. Life on the island still evokes a sense of calm steeped in local culture and tradition. Yet, urbanisation is noticeable, and debate surrounding its negative impact on the small island is becoming ever more heated.

“Gozo’s environment and heritage are major pull factors for both residents and visitors,” says Ivan Fava, Unit Manager at the Planning Authority (PA). Back in 2015, the PA shone a spotlight on Gozo’s unique development opportunities, as well as challenges, when it created its holistic spatial vision for Malta’s growth: the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED).

“Successful spatial planning is a fine balancing act and requires substantial forethought,” explains Mr Fava. “In the SPED, we set out to promote Malta’s socio-economic growth and safeguard quality of life and natural surroundings through long-term objectives for our urban, rural, coastal and marine areas. We approached Gozo separately because despite sharing the same spatial zones as Malta, it also presents a different dynamic.”

As an island within an island, Gozo faces several realities that result from its double insularity. Malta is cut off from Europe, but Gozo is yet again cut off from Malta. While this means that Gozo’s population is less dense than Malta’s, which has helped it retain its tranquillity, its residents face several comparative disadvantages.

“Gozo suffers the drawbacks of low economies of scale,” Mr Fava continues, “and job opportunities are hard to come by. Outward migration of working-age residents is common, and issues caused by an ageing population are emerging faster than in Malta.” To reduce its dependency on Malta, the SPED stresses that Gozo’s economic development must provide adequate employment by designating business hubs in Rabat, Marsalforn, Xlendi and Xewkija, targeting the retail, tourism, culture and industrial sectors.

Ivan Fava
Ivan Fava

“The idea is to generate work in parts of Gozo that have already been urbanised. Boosting employment should not be to the detriment of Gozo’s environment, natural resources, culture and identity, as these are the qualities that attract visitors and investors. For this reason, the objective is for Gozo to become an ecological island, and to do so its environment and heritage must be managed sustainably.”

Even though tourism to Gozo doesn’t reach the same numbers as in Malta, the average tourist seems to have a bigger spending capacity. The island is especially favoured by those enticed by its abundance of scuba diving sites, which often rank among some of the best in the Mediterranean.

“Capitalising on tourism is a logical development avenue to pursue,” remarks Mr Fava, “but we’re advocating for a measured approach that protects rather than harms the very characteristics that draw people to the island. It’s futile to pull in more tourists to boost the economy if other decisions end up reducing the qualities that attracted them in the first place.”

“Gozo’s status of an ‘eco-island’ is vital because it sets a goal, but the SPED is a strategic plan for the entire country to follow. What’s needed is concrete action to make the eco-island intention a reality. The PA facilitates action through financial incentives and designating areas for development and protection, but on-the-ground implementation mostly relies on local councils and other stakeholders. The PA’s role is to conduct development application assessments following the SPED’s targets for Gozo and to ensure that projects don’t impede these targets.”

The SPED is now reaching its first five-year revision. While it will continue providing direction for Malta and Gozo’s sustainable development, Mr Fava stresses that future success relies on concerted action across all levels, including public participation.

“As we strengthen what’s already in the SPED and add new considerations, the document’s revision is an opportune moment for people to make their voices heard at this strategic level. Development and planning decisions and subsidiary policies will be based on the SPED’s high-level objectives, so now is the time to contribute ideas and address issues one feels strongly about. I invite the Maltese community to participate in our public consultations because if not now, then when? Tomorrow will be too late.”

Malta’s Strategic Plan for Environment and Development can be accessed via

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