Updated 1.50pm with applicant's response
A controversial application to build a ferry jetty at Balluta Bay will be decided by the Planning Authority on Monday morning.
The application would allow a private operator to run a hop-on, hop-off ferry service from the popular bay in St Julian's. Residents however fear that the plans would ruin the popular swimming spot and turn it into “another Ferries”.
Applicants counter that objectors are twisting facts through a "misinformation campaign" and say that the jetty will be removed once a waterpolo club in the area redevelops its pool and deck area.
Sliema’s Ferries area is dominated by commercial tourist vessels, many of them operated by Captain Morgan, which is also owned by the Fortina group behind Balluta Bay plans.
The St Julian’s local council and 11 NGOs are objecting to the Balluta Bay plans. They cite safety concerns, the environmental impact the project would have and the fact that the area’s Local Plan makes no provision for berthing facilities in the area.
The project is however recommended for approval by the PA, with the application’s case officer saying it would encourage the use of ferries as an alternative form of transport. Activists say this is misleading as the service provided will be aimed at tourists.
In a statement on Saturday, Moviment Graffitti urged people to attend Monday’s PA hearing at 9am.
“It is outrageous that, after having already commercialised every inch of land in that area, suffocating residents and visitors alike, speculators now want to fully commercialise also its sea and its coast,” the NGO said.
“Should this application be accepted by the Planning Commission, Balluta Bay would be transformed into a berthing place for Fortina’s private ferry.”
Waterpolo club slams 'misinformation campaign'
The NGOs' statement prompted an outraged response from St Julian's waterpolo club, which is leading the application to develop the jetty.
In a statement, club president Peter Bonavia said that the jetty would not be reserved for the exclusive use of ferry operators, that berthing would not be permitted and that it would be removed once the club had a redesigned pool area, as it would be able to run the ferry service from the club itself.
The project would inject some much-needed revenue into local waterpolo and help the club attract more children to the sport, he argued.
Objectors' warnings about marine pollution did not elicit a sympathetic response from the club's president.
"If objectors are so concerned about pollution in the bay, why don’t they seek to address the real problem caused by dozens of other boats that give our children infections every summer?” Mr Bonavia asked.
“Everything has been done by the book: filed an application as per policy, outlined what we are doing and explained the benefits this will bring to our club. While we do not expect any praise, it is totally unacceptable that people twist the facts in order to influence the Planning Authority hearing taking place on Monday,” he said.
Fortina's ferry push
The Fortina group has been making moves to expand its maritime footprint in recent years.
It owns Marsamxetto Steamferry Services Ltd, which runs ferry services between Valletta, Sliema and Cottonera.
The company was also on the cusp of winning a Malta-Gozo fast ferry contract in partnership with Magro Brothers. But that deal ran into legal trouble last year when Gozo Channel were ordered to cancel the €20m deal and restart the tendering process.
A separate project by the company to run a Malta-Comino ferry as part of a cooperative was blocked by rival operators just days before the ferry was due to start operating. The issue is now before the courts.
The company's Balluta Bay plans face objections from St Julian's local council and the following NGOs: Archaeological Society of Malta, Attard Residents Environment Network (AREN), Bicycle Advocacy Group, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Futur Ambjent Wieħed, Isles of the Left, Moviment Graffitti, Nature Trust Malta and Ramblers’ Malta.