Increased traffic resulting from the proposed Gozo-Malta tunnel will boost calls for wider roads, eating away at green or arable land, Wirt Għawdex said.

Wirt Għawdex is an NGO whose aims are 'to foster the knowledge of and safeguard the natural, archaeological, historical and anthropological patrimony of the islands of Gozo and Comino'.

It said the projected building boom caused by the tunnel will see further loss of untouched land, more fuel stations and increased pressure by developers on land outside development zones.

Parliament last week gave its unanimous support to the construction of a permanent link between Malta and Gozo in what Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg described as a “historic moment” from which there was no turning back.

Wirt Għawdex said it was voicing its “major concerns” following a public debate and consultation with its members.

Its committee said it was sympathetic to the connectivity issues faced by Gozitans: “We are, after all, Gozitans ourselves, constantly facing the hardships and tribulations of travelling to Malta for work, education and travel purposes and also because of other commitments.”

It called for consideration of short-term solutions like a fourth ferry, more frequent ferry journeys and a fast ferry service as well as long-term options such as a mass transit system.

It is our duty as Gozitans to, first and foremost, make sure such solutions do not result in the loss of Gozo’s unique character and way of life as we know and love it- Wirt Għawdex

“But it is our duty as Gozitans to, first and foremost, make sure such solutions do not result in the loss of Gozo’s unique character and way of life as we know and love it,” it commented.

The NGO, which would like to see all the studies for the proposed tunnel being finalised and offered for public discussion, flagged the negative impact of the project on the natural and built environment as well as on the cultural and social heritage of Gozo.

During the construction phase, the digging, removal and relocation of debris would pose considerable risk to the natural environment of the island and its surrounding waters. After completion, the likely rise in traffic congestion would result in increased air pollution, apart from a demand for the widening of roads, Wirt Għawdex said.

The subsequent need to update the road infrastructure to cater for increased congestion would lead to the altering of traditional streetscapes, it warned.

Increased property demands would also change Gozo’s traditional townscapes by encouraging the destruction or alteration of traditional buildings, a relaxation of height limitations and an extension of development zones. This would, therefore, challenge what had, so far, seen the intact separation of Gozitan villages, the NGO added.

Gozo’s insularity resulted in a unique culture and way of life that undeniably differed in various respects from that of its sister island, Wirt Għawdex commented. 

It admitted it was worried that the sudden and uncontrolled influx of mainland influences would put pressure on, and subsequently change, Gozo’s cherished cultural and social norms and traditions.

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