The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has refused to suspend a permit granted to Captain Morgan to operate a sea-based hop-on-hop-off service in Balluta Bay despite the pending appeal against it.

The EPRT ruled in a preliminary decision that there was no reason why the tribunal had to suspend the permit while the appeal was being heard.

The tribunal was ruling on a request made by a group of residents and organisations who asked for the permit to be suspended until the appeal is decided.

The appellants include the St Julian’s local council, four NGOs and more than 80 residents who are appealing the decision to allow the development of a private jetty for a hop-on, hop-off tourist ferry at Balluta Bay. 

Among the objectors are NGOs Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, Futur Ambjent Wieħed, Green House and Moviment Graffitti, which had also sought to be given permission to manage Balluta Bay, pledging to keep it free of any commercial venture.

The project, which will effectively privatise a section of the public bay, was approved by the Planning Authority on March 2. The approved plans will allow Fortina Investments Ltd to build a jetty which it will use for tourist ferries. The company owns Captain Morgan Cruises and has also won a tender to operate a Malta-Comino ferry.

The first step to turning the bay into a port for massive catamarans

St Julian’s water polo club, which backed the Balluta Bay project, says that ferries will eventually dock at its premises instead and that the jetty being built will be temporary.

Objectors, however, contend that the plans will effectively put an end to Balluta as a safe swimming zone and argue that the jetty can be relocated to a safe area.

They argued that if the permit is not suspended, the applicant can start operating the catamaran immediately and effectively change a bathing beach into another port, posing a danger to swimmers and beach users, especially during the summer months.

Although it appears to be a harmless application for a “landing place” for maritime services, they said, it is in fact the first step to turning the bay into a port for massive catamarans operating from it. Once it starts operating, it will set a precedent for other operators to follow suit and the remaining coastal zone will be lost for public use.

The operator, on the other hand, rebutted the claims, saying that the landing place for the catamaran is not permanent and completely reversible. It will consist of a semi-submerged pontoon, an anchorage system and ramps connecting the pontoons to the quay.

The operator argued that it was not true that the zone was a bathing zone and it was not classified as such in the local plan.

But the tribunal, with Joseph Borg as its chair and Abigail Bugeja and Robert Sarsero as members, ruled that there will not be disproportionate damage should the permit not be suspended.

Moreover, the appellants have other remedies before the First Hall of the Civil Court to protect their rights. It therefore refused the request for the suspension of the permit and ordered that the grounds of appeal continue being heard. The next sitting is at the end of September.

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