A Labour government would prefer a helicopter service between Malta and Gozo but will not rule out an airstrip.

Labour leader Joseph Muscat yesterday said all options for better transport links between Malta and Gozo had to be explored.

“I don’t believe an airstrip is the preferred option even because of its environmental impact but it cannot be written off,” Dr Muscat said, adding his preferred option was an efficient helicopter service that worked on a fixed schedule.

EU regulations permitted subsidies for a scheduled service, he added.

Air Malta used to run a subsidised helicopter service but this was stopped.

A Spanish helicopter operator was then engaged to offer the service but this stopped functioning in 2006 just 18 months after the company was awarded the contract. The Spanish company did not receive subsidies and patronage dropped because of the high fees charged.

Dr Muscat spoke at Fort Chambray in Għajnsielem where he was given a tour of the luxury development by Gozitan investor Michael Caruana.

In a brief speech, Dr Caruana said Gozitan investment was missing “some important political decisions” such as the creation of a 500-berth yacht marina and an airstrip.

Dr Muscat said a Labour government’s immediate priority would be to develop Mġarr harbour. “The area is already committed and it has potential to generate jobs,” he said, adding the existing yacht marina could be expanded.

The Chambray development was mired in controversy when it was first proposed by Italian investor Roberto Memmo in the late 1990s.

At the time a journalist in the Labour Party’s media stable, Dr Muscat wrote a book about the reported links between Dr Memmo and the mafia.

Columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia sued Dr Muscat for libel and won after she was mentioned in the book.

The project under Dr Memmo never took off and the government, which held 49 per cent of shares in a joint company with the Italian, was unable to get out of the deal.

For almost 12 years Chambray was a white elephant with only a few apartment blocks and no Italian investment.

Dr Caruana took over the project in 2004 when he reached an agreement with the government and bought all the shareholding.

Dr Muscat yesterday said the way the project developed after Dr Caruana took it over proved the Labour Party right when it criticised the development in the 1990s.

“Maltese and Gozitan investors are capable of carrying out quality projects,” he said.

The high-end residential complex already houses residents, most of them foreigners. A five- or six-star boutique hotel and a casino are also planned.

Dr Caruana said foreigners who bought property were not only investing capital but also generating other business.

Dr Muscat used the occasion to emphasise the importance of a permanent residency scheme that attracted foreign buyers.

The government had undermined trust when it removed the scheme in 2010 and took months to replace it, he added.

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