As if the Gżira/Sliema foreshore and its hinterland have not undergone enough ugly development already over the years, robbing the seaside environment of much of its past charm, further bad news is in the pipeline. Four hotels are to build a lido on reclaimed land on the seafront, on the Gżira side of the promenade.

The Planning Authority has duly given a permit for the project and Parliament has also approved the transfer of space for land reclamation and the building of the lido.

The project is officially meant to compensate the promoters for the lack of pool facilities at the four hotels but no thought appears to have been given to the fact that, whatever shape or form the new structure is going to take, it will change the character of that part of the seafront as it has now been established for a number of years. The four hotels could have sought permits to build swimming pools on the rooftops, rather than going for land reclamation and the building of a lido in a creek that has already been narrowed to make way for the widening of the road and promenade.

Indeed, the whole seafront, up to the other lido just before Tigné Point and the hideous blocks of apartments overshadowing it, is built on land reclaimed from the sea.

In view of the reclamation that has already been made in the area, some may well argue it is now pointless to fuss over the likely impact the new lido would have on the environment. But such argument ignores the fact that, as already remarked, the seafront along the creek has now taken its particular character.

This apart from the fact that approval of the project sets a precedent. It is not altogether unreasonable to foresee a time when other hotel owners would want to build other lidos along the seafront. If this were to happen, they will not add any touristic value to the seafront. The contrary will probably be the case because the likelihood is that, over time, they will be turned into eating complexes and the stretch will then turn into another Buġibba, a nondescript conglomeration of eateries.

Far from being “positive”, as one member of Parliament has put it, the new lido project could be a harbinger of worse things to come for the seafront.

There is another point: does not the project go against the public domain law? This lays down that the first 15 metres of the coastline cannot be commercialised. When the law was passed just over two years ago, it was hailed as revolutionary in concept. It was thought then that no more shoreline was going to be sacrificed to development.

Maybe some may argue that, since the lido will be built on reclaimed land, the promenade as such will not be affected. Only time will tell how the project will shape up but what is certain is that the site will no longer be the same again. Ironically, this is happening 20 years after Dom Mintoff led to the collapse of the Labour government when he objected to a project he felt did not benefit the people.

In a vibrant economy such as Malta’s, no one can stop development. But why kill the character of a place when this can be avoided?

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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