Updated at 6.20pm

A hotel at Fort Manoel, an extensive shopping complex and a casino-hotel at the historic Lazaretto are among the proposals in Midi’s official development plans for Manoel Island.

The plans were immediately described as “completely unacceptable” by Gżira mayor Conrad Borg Manché, who said the proposal would create “another jumble of retail outlets and commercialised space”.

Development consortium Midi, which was granted a 99-year concession on the large part of Manoel Island in 2000, held a meeting with NGOs on Tuesday where it presented its master plan for the development, with a full planning application expected to be submitted within the week.

The plans have not yet been made public, but people who were present for the meeting told this newspaper that the whole of the newly restored Fort Manoel would be used as a hotel, with another hotel and casino taking over the nearby Lazaretto, a historic isolation hospital.

High-end retail outlets and luxury low-rise apartments will dominate the island, effectively ringing in the planned garden around the fort, which is designated as public space.

The plans also include a helipad and superyacht marina, while the current swimming spot beneath the fort, the subject of a pitched campaign for public access in recent months, will host a water taxi pontoon, according to the Gżira mayor.

The sea will be a mass of vessels so people cannot swim in the wake of the yachts of the rich

“For the average citizen who is not shopping or gambling away money, there is very little being offered,” Mr Borg Manché said. “The sea will be a mass of vessels so people cannot swim in the wake of the yachts of the rich. This is yet another community which caters for the elite and shuts out the citizen.”

Mr Borg Manché said the Manoel Island project should serve to balance out the development at Tigné, also a Midi project, by providing open parks for the public to enjoy peace and quiet.

“I believe the proposal is speculative and, as explained, gives nothing much back to the public,” he said. “This goes against the spirit of all the debates in Parliament on which the decision to give this grant was taken.”

Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar environment officer Tara Cassar, also present at the meeting, said no provision had been made for the island’s cultural heritage, with every single building used for commercial purposes.

“The whole island will be turned into a large shopping complex, with apartments for the well-to-do and nothing whatsoever to draw the people of Gżira to use it,” Ms Cassar said.

Under the terms of the concession agreement, the consortium is obliged to complete development works on a “Mediterranean village” by March 2023. If the target is not met, daily fines will be imposed for three years, at which point the contract will be torn up.

The consortium has been under public scrutiny in recent months after blocking access to the foreshore beneath Fort Manoel shortly after acquiring the concession.

The issue came to a head last September when activists cut through fencing to gain access to the public foreshore, following which the Gżira local council and the government both filed judicial protests against Midi, calling on the consortium to adhere to its contract and provide access.

Midi reached an agreement after weeks of protests to allow limited access, under surveillance, between 8am and 8pm on weekends, which remains in force today.

The consortium has since applied to install extensive fencing, enclosing most of the island behind a 2.2-metre-high mesh fence, leaving open one accessible route to the foreshore.

“The whole island will be turned into a large shopping complex,” said Tara Cassar of Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar.“The whole island will be turned into a large shopping complex,” said Tara Cassar of Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar.

Midi reaction

Contacted yesterday for comments, a Midi spokesman said more time was required to formulate a response.

However the consortium in a company announcement today said the Outline Development Permit clearly sets out the parameters of the development and specifies the extent of development permitted including a mix of low-rise residential and commercial development, marina, restoration, dredging, land reclamation and infrastructural obligations.

"The company is fully committed to the restoration and rehabilitation of the heritage buildings on Manoel Island and the extensive provision of space for leisure and heritage walks and events. As such, the masterplan, in line with the Deed, envisages that 62% of Manoel Island is to be dedicated to public open spaces (including the creation of an 80,000‐square metre park), 20% of Manoel Island is to be dedicated to heritage buildings and 18% of Manoel Island is to be dedicated to new buildings.

"Furthermore, the foreshore will be fully accessible to the public and swimmers."

This afternoon, MIDI further said that the consortium had, on its own initiative, extended full public pedestrian access to Manoel Island to every day of the week.

It said that it had an open dialogue with stakeholders and the latter's recommendations would be evaluated by the company.

AD: Manoel Island must become a national park 

AD chairman Arnold Cassola, said Alternattiva Demokratika is demanding a full investigation into the Manoel Island contract between the Maltese government and the Midi consortium.

"If any of the conditions of the contract have been breached, Manoel Island is to be returned to the Maltese government and is to be turned into a national
park."

"As things stand, AD totally refutes the proposal of the Midi developers to develop Manoel Island into a hotel at Fort Manoel, a shopping complex and a casino-hotel at the historic 18th century Lazaretto, retail outlets and luxury low-rise apartments, a helipad and superyacht marina, while taking over also the foreshore including the current swimming spot beneath the fort to build a water taxi pontoon."

"The Midi developers have already caused enough damage by reducing Tigne Point to a concrete slum. We reiterate that Manoel Island, the only lung in the polluted and congested Tas-Sliema and Gżira area, should be turned into a national park for the enjoyment of one and all."

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