Midi may have breached its development permit conditions in sealing off access to the Manoel Island foreshore after being granted a concession to parts of the island 16 years ago, documents indicate.

The outline development permit issued by the Planning Authority in October 1999 included a condition that the foreshore be made accessible “throughout the construction and operational phases” of the private consortium’s developments at Manoel Island and Tigné.

The condition also lays down that if specific areas are temporarily closed off, “a notice shall be erected explaining such action indicating when it is expected that the area is to be made accessible once again”.

The outline permit for “residential, commercial, tourism, recreational, cultural and marina-related use” was issued a few months before Midi signed its agreement with the government for a 99-year concession on parts of Manoel Island and Tigné.

Large parts of the island were fenced off shortly afterwards, preventing the public from accessing the foreshore, which does not form part of the concession.

Midi’s contract includes a clause allowing the government to temporarily close off access to parts of the island to allow development to take place, but it never has.

Access throughout is not restricted by Midi but by the island’s geography, historical structures and the yacht yard

Moreover, former environment minister Francis Zammit Dimech, who led the concession negotiations, told the Times of Malta that public access to the foreshore was a “key issue” during the talks.

“The government insisted on public rights to the foreshore, which necessarily implies access,” he said. “This was a major issue at the time and everyone at the negotiating table was highly conscious of it.”

There is only one route to the foreshore. It runs through parts of the island included in Midi’s concession but is designated on official plans as a path for “public pedestrian circulation”.

The Gżira local council filed a judicial protest last month calling for the foreshore access to be restored, and activists from Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent broke through the gates two weeks ago, joined by scores of residents and the mayor.

Development works by the consortium on a ‘Mediterranean village’, which will include residences, commercial outlets, a hotel and casino, have, so far, been limited to restoration efforts at Fort Manoel.

The concession agreement obliges Midi to complete all development by March 2023. If this target is not met, daily fines will be imposed for three years, at which point the contract will be torn up.

When asked about the possible breach of permit conditions, Midi CEO Luke Coppini insisted the company was working according to the terms of its contract.

“We are in discussions with the government, as grantor of the emphyteusis, to find a satisfactory solution which may even go beyond the terms of the deed, provided that our rights to the property are not prejudiced,” Mr Coppini said.

In a legal letter to the Gżira council last week, the consortium insisted it was “under no obligation whatsoever… to provide public access to the foreshore over its private property”.

“While the company is well within its rights to request that the government of Malta closes access to Midi’s property, the company has, to date, not availed itself of such rights and has limitedly placed fencing and gates within select parts of its property for site preservation purposes and never within the foreshore.

“Access throughout the foreshore is not restricted by Midi but is, in actual fact, restricted either by the geography of the island or by historical structures and, in other instances, by the yacht yard, which is not Midi property,” the consortium said.

What the permit says

All areas shown for public access shall be retained for public use.

The foreshore and historic buildings should, as much as possible, be made accessible throughout the construction and operational phases.

If specific areas are to be closed off for a period of time, a notice shall be erected explaining such action, indicating when it is expected that the area is to be made accessible once again.

Accessibility along the foreshore should be retained and other access routes must be kept free of all development and private land use, including jetties, structures, boat storage and beach concessions.

Detailed proposals shall be submitted showing any private areas and how they relate to public areas and details submitted showing all enhancement measures for public access.

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