Non-governmental organisation Wirt Għawdex held a debate at Don Bosco Oratory in Victoria where the possibility of a permanent link between Malta and Gozo was discussed.
The panelists included Franco Mercieca who chairs the Malta-Gozo tunnel steering committee, Joseph Borg, the President of the Gozo Business Chamber, Joe Muscat, the CEO of the Gozo Tourism Association, Giovan Pace, a Gozitan, Rachel Galea, President of the student organisation GUG, and Samuel Azzopardi, the President of the Gozo Regional Committee.
A number of people, Maltese, Gozitans as well as foreigners turned up for the debate.
The debate kicked off with Franco Mercieca who chairs the Malta-Gozo tunnel steering committee giving a presentation. Mercieca said that as early as 1971 the need to construct a permanent link between the two islands was felt. Referring to survey findings throughout the last decade, Mercieca said that they showed that the majority of Gozitans were in favour of having a permanent link. During his presentation, Mercieca spoke of the impact of the ferries on the environment, saying that unlike what those who claim that the tunnel will contribute to an increase in emissions on Gozo, the ferries contribute some thirteen times as much as the cars they ferry between the two islands.
According to Mercieca over the last 14 years the number of children in Gozo attending schools decreased drastically by some 40% when compared to Malta’s 23%.
For the metro to be a viable option, Gozo’s population should be somewhere between 100,000 to 150,000 according to Mercieca.
The President of the Gozo Business Chamber, Joseph Borg then took the floor who started with an anecdote. Borg told those present that it was former Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami’s vision which led to the current ferry system. Borg cited a number of studies were carried out by various institutions in Gozo. The President of the Gozo Business Chamber said that even the Diocese had recognised the importance of having a permanent link between the two islands.
Borg lamented that a metro system would end up delaying the project. He also said that the current ferries were subjected to wear and tear and this would put Gozo’s infrastructure at risk. According to the Borg the tunnel would not damage Gozo but would bring the island into the future, saying that it was a ‘complete fabrication’ that the permanent link would destroy it.
Gozo Tourism Association CEO Joe Muscat said that the Association still had many questions on the purported advantages to Gozo’s tourism sector. The Association will launch a tourism impact assessment over the coming weeks which aims to answer its many questions including whether or not Gozo would remain a distinct destination and whether the island would see an increase in over night stays in Gozo. Muscat also questioned whether there would be a toll to cross over and at which price would it be set. The CEO said that Gozo could well advance with better infrastructure which do not necessarily include the construction of a permanent link, such as having a second fibre optic cable connecting the two islands which would facilitate the relocation of companies to Gozo.
The President of the Association of Gozitan Employees described the tunnel as a game-changer for Gozo. According to the President another possibility was to provide a ferry system with new and upgraded ferryboats which would be complimented with a traffic management plan. The President warned of a possible brain drain due to lack of quality jobs on the sister island.
Gozitan resident Giovan Pace told those present that the tunnel posed a threat to the environment, warning that its construction will lead to land in out of development zones to be taken up. The resident warned that the two islands have different characteristics. He stressed on the need to upgrade current services, such as introducing the fast ferry service between the two islands.
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