Key figures still in favour of constructing a permanent link between Malta and Gozo insist it makes no sense to shelve plans to build the tunnel.

Those who spoke to Times of Malta, among them Gozitan business and community leaders, argued that not going ahead with the plans does not hold any water given that the vast majority of the construction project was to be financed by the private sector.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that implementing the project is not a priority for the time being.

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.

“I do believe that priorities change but if we do the maths and see how much it is costing us to run Gozo Channel and how much it is going to cost us if the public service offering for the fast ferries gets approved, we’re talking about millions of euros every year in subsidised travel for Gozitans.”

The tunnel, he added, would be an opportunity to democratise travel for Gozitans and give them more freedom to make their own personal and business arrangements.

Mercieca pushed back at claims that the island risks becoming further overdeveloped, saying this was already in full swing without the presence of the permanent link.

“Just because we built flyovers in Marsa, it does not mean that people flocked to move to the south,” he said.

Daniel Borg, CEO of the Gozo Business Chamber, echoed this sentiment.

“The problem of overdevelopment is here and it is not because of a permanent link, it is happening because of lack of regulation in the planning process,” he said.

“We are not happy with the current state of development and planning in Gozo but we cannot attribute this to the tunnel.”

Borg said it would be a shame to shelve the project at this stage, given that the tendering process had been finalised and a bidder selected.

Conceding that additional studies may be required before implementing, he said the project would not have had an impact on public funds and would not remove other connection options.

“When it comes to Gozo, we sometimes lack a long-term vision. If the island keeps growing at the pace it is, we are going to need the infrastructure to support it, not just a permanent link, hospitals, roads and utilities,” he said.

“Gozo has developed into its own region and has its own planning needs. Problems are being caused by policies that are applied everywhere without distinction and creating havoc.

“This is not a project that you can just start and stop haphazardly. There are huge considerations to be made. But we believe that, ultimately, it would make a qualitative leap for Gozo.”

Businessman Michael Grech said the permanent link would eliminate the “question mark” of necessary travel for Gozitans, pointing to other countries that have implemented similar measures.

The Faroe Islands, with a population of roughly 50,000 people, had built four undersea tunnels, he noted.

“I think it’s still doable. Like everything else, it has its challenges... such as environmental considerations,” he said.

“I believe that whatever comes out of the digging should not be seen as waste but as a resource. It’s simply a matter of deciding on the best way to make use of it.”

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