Sunday Times of Malta, 30 November 2008, by Herman Grech

The management of the Danish Village has taken exception to comments made by Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt in relation to the complex as the crossfire over the controversial Għadira road proposal continued yesterday.

When contacted, Danish Village managing director Flemming Jensen said: “We are shocked and surprised at the minister’s comments. Is this the way the government speaks to a foreign operator? I’ve worked in different countries and I’ve never experienced anything of the sort. We’ve been ambassadors for Malta in Denmark for 30 years and brought more than half a million tourists.”

Asked about the possibility that the road would mean the closure of the Danish Village, Dr Gatt told a news conference last Wednesday that if the management decided to sell the complex, they would find a buyer straight away.

Plans to build a new road close to the environmentally friendly low-rise Danish Village have been shot down by environmentalists and the Labour Party. And though Dr Gatt has expressed a willingness to discuss the project, he once again insisted that doing nothing was not an option.

The €15 million project would mean the beach would grow depth-wise. But the new road would run through a section of the Foresta 2000 site, past the Għadira Nature Reserve and within metres of the Danish Village complex.

This angered Mr Jensen, who said the management had never been consulted about the road project and that letters of concern sent by the Danish Village to the government were acknowledged but not answered.

“We were only called to the ADT and shown a map which shows three options. But these are no options to us because they go directly past our houses. Of course, we’d like to see the beach to grow, but not at any cost.”

Mr Jensen said the Danish Village was a model development. A new road would destroy the tourist complex and a business in the process.

With just over a month until the government requests EU funding for the project, Mr Jensen said it was obvious no time had been allotted for necessary independent studies.

The Infrastructure Ministry says the road is required because the Għadira beach is being eroded, though the minister has admitted this is not backed by any studies.

The ministry yesterday released aerial photos from 1957 to show that the beach had receded and compared them with the situation today.

“It is clear from this comparison that the beach is smaller today than it was some 50 years ago. Għadira is a large beach and its erosion is slow and imperceptible to the naked eye. But it is happening as surely as the natural sandy beaches of Xlendi, Marsalforn, Balluta and St George’s Bay vanished,” the ministry said.

“Just because we go there to sunbathe and relax by the seaside doesn’t make Għadira any less eligible to environmental protection than garigue, by definition the lowest grade of natural habitat one can find in our climate.”

The ministry said that both Dr Gatt and Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino insisted the road would not pass through the Foresta 2000 site and both said the government was willing to listen to alternative proposals before deciding the best route for the road.

In the meantime, German Green MEP Michael Cramer, a specialist on transport issues, will be in Malta in the coming days to discuss the issue of the proposed road with Dr Gatt.

Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola said yesterday that since the road would be mainly financed by the EU, it was only right to ensure that the EU’s and Maltese taxpayers’ money was invested in a proper and sustainable way.

On the other hand, Silvio Debono, owner of the Seabank Hotel, is four-square behind the proposal, saying that Malta had a chance to boast a quality beach and promenade, similar to the ones overseas.

“Of course, you need to weigh up everything, but there are more positive aspects than negative ones,” he said, citing the improvements to traffic flow and the beach improvement.

Mr Debono said he had no plans to apply for any beach concessions once the beach was enlarged, though he said that if such a tender was available then “I believe I have every right to apply like everybody else”.

Mr Debono described as “absurd” claims that a new road was being proposed to partly accommodate his business.

“I ignore these claims – this symbolises the jealousy which reigns supreme in this country whenever someone is developing something.”

When contacted, Malta Tourism Authority chairman Sam Mifsud said the authority had not been approached to give any technical opinion on the specifics of this proposal.

“We understand that this current road-relocation is still at an early stage of the process, and therefore it would be inappropriate for the MTA to comment at this point,” Mr Mifsud said.