The MIDI Group have recently presented their latest plans for Manoel Island, which are a major departure from their 1999 proposals approved by MEPA, where the fort was to accommodate a fortress museum, an audio-visual visitor centre and exhibition gallery. The emphasis was to be on traditional crafts or art studio/workshops. The chapel crypt was to be an exhibition room with the chapel being reinstated as a religious building.
Conversely, this latest version of the Manoel Island project is largely a speculative project consisting of luxury hotels and yet more exclusive residential units, shops and restaurants.
Fort Manoel, an outstanding example of French fortress design, is being taken over completely and exclusively as a hotel, depriving the public of full access and enjoyment of their cultural legacy. The very fact that a pontoon for water taxis was planned to be positioned in front of the Fort betrays the foreign architects’ lack of appreciation for the fort’s iconic Vauban design, as well as the public’s access to the last swimming zone in the area.
FAA highlights the fact that in MIDI’s original proposals the only hotel envisaged was an aparthotel at the Lazzaretto. Now not one, but two hotels within a stone’s throw of each other are being planned in a zone which is already heaving with hotels. This unimaginative, speculative use is a huge disappointment for the citizens of Malta who have long hoped that Manoel Island, in the heart of the conurbation that runs uninterruptedly from Pieta to Madliena, would be turned into a national heritage park. This would also become a strong tourism asset and therefore boost the economy.
Having studied the MIDI plc’s contractual legal obligations set out in the June 2000, FAA points out a number of breaches which have been ignored by the authorities. Since the signing of this contract seventeen years ago, the context has changed significantly. Gzira and Sliema have been subjected to severe over-development, traffic is often gridlocked, and air pollution levels are known to exceed EU limits. The solution is to be found in the application of the Public Domain Act which ensures the protection of heritage properties that are important for their architectural or historic value. Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar has officially applied for Manoel Island to be declared to be in the Public Domain.
Scientific studies attest to the harmful effect that air pollution has on health, and the great health benefits that residents derive from proximity to nature. Our politicians have long yearned to turn Malta into Dubai and New York. Instead Government should do the right thing and turn Manoel Island into a Central Park for the people of Malta.