The government is set to “re-examine” the need for an underwater tunnel connecting Malta and Gozo.

A 10-year Gozo strategy document launched on Friday spells out the government's doubts about the massive infrastructural project and pledges to introduce island-specific policies and fiscal incentives to ensure Gozo maintains its distinctiveness. 

Among the ideas proposed in the plan are an increased focus on pedestrianising squares, introducing Gozo-specific urban architecture policies and requiring new developments to have facades built using limestone rather than concrete.

In presenting its argument to put the Gozo Tunnel project on the backburner, the document highlights various other investments to improve connectivity between Malta and Gozo. 

This investment includes more frequent Gozo Channel trips, the introduction of a fast ferry service, and plans to upgrade the Gozo heliport to serve as a permanent air link.

“In view of this, the project of linking Gozo and Malta by an underwater tunnel needs to be reconsidered and its cost-benefits trade-off re-examined,” the document says.

Infrastructure Malta shortlisted a bidder for the project in 2021, but the process has since stalled.

When Times of Malta first reported plans to shelve the project last year, business and community leaders argued against the project being ditched.

Former Labour MP Franco Mercieca, who chaired the steering committee to implement the project, said he still believes a permanent link is the only way to ensure an even playing field between the Maltese and the Gozitans.

“People who say this project is not a priority are not Gozitan,” Mercieca said in November 2022.

Daniel Borg, CEO of the Gozo Business Chamber, echoed Mercieca’s sentiment.

But according to a survey commissioned by Times of Malta that same year, support for the project is split down the middle, with 41.6% of the Maltese population in favour and 38.8% against.

The 14-kilometre horseshoe-shaped tunnel was planned to run underground and under the seabed between l-Imbordin, in St Paul’s Bay, and a road near Kenuna Tower, in Nadur.

As part of the strategy document, the government said it will also explore the possibility of “expanding” the Mġarr Harbour.

Unveiling the strategy, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that the strategy was based on the idea of Gozo being an "island of villages" - and hinted that the upcoming budget for 2024 will feature measures aimed at implementing that vision. 

The budget speech is expected to be held in October, though no official date has been announced yet. 

Policies focused on Gozo's distinctiveness 

Gozo-based stakeholders have complained in recent years that "outrageous" overdevelopment is ruining Malta's sister island. A survey among Gozitan tourism operators last year showed that all fear that Gozo is losing its charm.

The strategy document launched by the government on Friday acknowledges that population growth and urban sprawl in Gozo have implications on the identity, qualify of life and wellbeing of its inhabitants.

It says “efforts” should be made towards assessing the sustainability of the current economic model and towards the identification of stress points on both the physical infrastructure of the island and the natural environment and resources.

Other key proposals included in the document include:

  • The need to draw up policies to protect Gozo’s urban and architectural distinctiveness.
  • Allowing people to make use of public spaces in towns and villages without having to use a car, with pedestrianisation introduced “wherever possible”.
  • Preserving village squares, including by restricting parking and traffic flows.
  • All new Gozo developments to have facades built using Maltese limestone, rather than concrete
  • Policies aimed at integrating the diverse migrant communities into Gozitan society.

The strategy document focuses on a 10-year timeline. Abela's cabinet approved the strategy document last month.

Speaking during its launch on Friday, he said that the plan is based on three key aims: careful use of the urban and rural environment; economic growth leading to improved quality of life; and giving greater value to the distinctiveness of Gozitan identity. 

Read the document in full using the PDF link above.

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