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News | Wednesday, 03 March 2010 Issue. 153

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Gozo Business Chamber welcomes Labour’s airstrip U-turn

The Gozo Business Chamber has welcomed the fact that both major parties now seem to agree with an airstrip in Gozo, following a declaration by the Labour Party’s environment spokesman Roderick Galdes that a new PL government will consider the proposal, despite its past opposition to the project.
But the development is still shot-down by Alternattiva Demokratika which concurs with the GBC only on the need for the publication of studies regarding this development.
“Both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party seem to agree that the airstrip should be built in Gozo,” a spokesperson for the Chamber told MaltaToday.
But the chamber expressed its disappointment that both parties are unable to take a definitive stand in the absence of a definitive study on the pros and cons of an airstrip.
“Our impression that both parties have not as yet come out in full support for the airstrip because there hasn’t so far been a holistic professional report that takes into consideration the economic, social and environmental aspects.”
The Gozo Business Chamber is urging the government to immediately commission such a report so that an early decision could be made.
But Alternattiva Demokratika insists that studies assessing the feasibility of an airstrip have already been conducted.
“Studies carried out in the past should be updated and made available to the public, rather than kept in the secrecy of a ministry,” AD’s spokesperson for Gozo Victor Galea told MaltaToday.
According to AD, more than one survey and feasibility studies were undertaken in past years and these “always clearly revealed that an aerial operation to Gozo can’t be financially viable unless the number of tourists to Gozo multiplies to a phenomenal figure, and that was not seen as possible.”
AD also contends that any assessment of how to improve the connectivity between the two islands should not be limited to the development of an airstrip, the option “favoured at various times by the PN, the LP and a few business people.”
These studies should also assess the construction of a causeway, as proposed in the 1960s, and the use of seaplanes: not just at Mgarr, but also in other Gozitan inlets – in particular at Marsalforn, whose breakwater is long overdue for reconstruction.
But AD’s favoured option is the reintroduction of a hydrofoil (catamaran) service linking Malta and Gozo, and possibly Gozo with other Mediterranean countries.
“The catamaran was a reality some years back and this fast craft served many types of passengers including Gozitan workers, university students, business people and tourists for fast access to Malta and Gozo. This is so versatile in function, connections, schedules and stop-overs. Moreover it will not take up any land and will also solve some of the hardships so many Gozitans face when they have to travel.”
On the other hand developing “an airstrip is not only ecologically disastrous but is also not economically viable - hence requiring massive state subsidies.
“This will surely not be to the advantage of common people,” Galea added.
While not excluding the project parliamentary secretary Mario De Marco has expressed doubts on the sustainability of the airstrip.
“There needs to be a proper analysis on whether an airstrip would be sustainable, even in view of the fact that previous experience of various private operators with the helipad has shown that it might not be economically feasible to run,” a spokesperson for parliamentary secretary Mario De Marco told MaltaToday.

De Marco has also questioned whether such a development will diminish Gozo’s touristic appeal.
“One needs to consider whether this development will actually impact negatively the perception of the island that lures tourists to it”.
But the Labour Party which had aborted the project when last elected in 1996 has now warmed up to the project.
“The development of an airstrip is one of the options which a Labour Government would consider” planning spokesperson Roderick Galdes told MaltaToday last week.
But Galdes qualified his support adding that any assessment should assess “economic, social and environmental considerations.”


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