Environment minister José Herrera has framed plans for large-scale land reclamation as an ecological endeavour, arguing that the project can “save the environment” by preserving existing land from development.

“This idea is being driven by the environment, not industry; the emphasis will be purely environmental,” Dr Herrera said during a Parliamentary environment committee hearing on construction waste on Monday.

“Land reclamation takes place in some of the most beautiful countries in the world: I’ve just returned from the Seychelles where they are using it to preserve their parks and forests; they used just 20 per cent of the reclaimed area for residential projects and filled the rest with the trees.”

Dr Herrera insisted that reclaiming land would create more space for “environmental activity”, which would be prioritised over any other type of development.

“If you went anywhere in the world and said a small country like Malta was against land reclamation you’d be laughed out of the room,” he said.

This idea is being driven by the environment, not industry; the emphasis will be purely environmental

Land reclamation has risen up the agenda in recent months, with sources indicating it is seen as a solution to what industry has called a construction waste crisis, due to lack of adequate disposal options, as well as the massive amount set to be generated by the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel. 

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has drawn up a policy document - which Dr Herrera said has been finalised and presented to Cabinet for discussion - which sources said had indicated the coast around Xgħajra as the only suitable area for major reclamation projects, the rest of the island having been ruled out on environmental grounds.

Reclaimed land in the Seychelles. Photo: Shutterstock.Reclaimed land in the Seychelles. Photo: Shutterstock.

Urgent need for construction waste depots to encourage reuse

Addressing the committee on the construction waste issue, PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg said the country urgently needed salvage depots where material from demolition could be stored and sorted for reuse.

He said a lot of demolition material was already suitable for reuse, but that while some developers retained material of their own initiative, there was no system in place on a national level.

Malta Developers Association chairman Sandro Chetcuti picked up the point, arguing that while such facilities could be bound by guarantees to prevent their redevelopment into real estate, there was no argument for them not to be built.

Environment minister Dr Herrera said the construction waste policy document would address the issue, but warned that not every owner could expect to be allowed to convert their quarry into a depot.

We have had half-baked policies in the past that have resulted in environmental disaster

"Most quarries are ODZ and the policy is that they must be reinstated, so we cannot eat up more ODZ. There will be no policy encouraging everyone with a quarry to exploit it economically.

"We have had half-baked policies in the past that have resulted in environmental disaster: if we give free rein, I am worried that the little we have will be destroyed."

Dr Herrera noted that this represented 80 per cent of all Malta’s waste, compared to just 25 per cent in Europe, despite representing just 4 per cent of the island’s GDP, half the European average.

He said that while two quarries were currently permitted for construction waste disposal, in principle 16 more were capable of taking such waste.

In the worst-case scenario, he said, the law empowered the government to take over part of the volume of a quarry to use for this purpose, compensating the owner accordingly.

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