More than 100 Gzira residents gathered on Manoel Island this afternoon protesting the blocking of access to the coastline by private consortium MIDI.

The angry crowd stood in front of the gates that seal access to the large part of the island, including Fort Manoel and several inlets once popular with residents before access was sealed some 16 years ago.

Residents who spoke to the Times of Malta shared memories of swimming and fishing in the area in the past.

“I grew up here and remember swimming here as a child,” one elderly man said. “The British declared it as a restricted area and tried to keep us out, but we would swim anyway; we never imagined it would be ever worse under the Maltese.”

Several people held placards calling for pedestrian access to be granted immediately, and insisting that the coastline belonged to everyone.

Residents are unhappy at MIDI's blocking of the coastline. Photo: Matthew MirabelliResidents are unhappy at MIDI's blocking of the coastline. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

“My only joy in life is fishing,” another said. “Why should I be prevented from enjoying my hobby in my own hometown?”

The Gzira council filed a judicial protest against MIDI last week demanding that the development consortium open up Manoel Island’s foreshore to the public.

The council has argued that the closure of access to the foreshore is in breach of public domain law and the concession contract between the private consortium and the government.

Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manche told this newspaper several attempts had been made to create a dialogue with MIDI, and that the judicial protest had been prompted by a communication with the consortium in which the council were branded “outsiders”.

In a statement, the council said the foreshore had been inaccessible for the last 16 years without a valid reason at law, resulting in a locality surrounded by sea but with nowhere to swim.

This closure, the council said, was in breach of the law enshrining the foreshore as part of the public domain, as well as the concession contract MIDI signed with the government, since no development had so far taken place.

The council is also aggrieved that Fort Manoel is closed to the public and used only for private functions, insisting there is no valid reason for locals and tourists not to be granted access.

Moreover, a promised sports complex has remained on the shelf for 16 years, according to the council, to the detriment of sports clubs and children who have to make use of facilities outside the locality.

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