Times of Malta, 31st October 2009, by Kurt Sansone

The controversial plan to build a road in Għadira has been shelved for now and the EU funds earmarked for the project will be redirected towards the construction of a new junction at Kappara, the Transport Minister said yesterday.

Austin Gatt complained about the planning authority’s procrastination in issuing the terms of reference for the environmental impact assessment for the Għadira road. This has prompted the ministry to drop the idea of building the road using EU funds because the deadline for submitting proposals was very tight.

Dr Gatt was speaking at a press conference at which a study of the Għadira road’s impact on the sandy beach by British coastal geology expert Kenneth Pye was published.

The report, commissioned by the ministry in July, says the road is a major cause of sand erosion at the popular bay and could contribute to the eventual disappearance of the beach. However, further studies are required to determine the impact of the road’s removal on the low-lying nature reserve just behind the road, which could be threatened by flooding, according to the report.

Prof. Pye said the sandy beach had retracted by 26 metres over a 50-year span and the road had contributed to the erosion. While he highlighted the risk of flooding in the hinterland if the road were moved from its present location, he insisted it was possible to save both the beach and the nature reserve.

Dr Gatt said the government was committed to safeguarding both Għadira beach and the bird sanctuary, pointing out that it remained open to all solutions for the construction of a new road.

“It is not appropriate to rush such a crucial decision so we will wait for all studies to be concluded. The road will be financed by national funds,” he said.

The minister said the Kappara junction was less problematic as it was already covered by Mepa permits that had now expired.

Earlier this month, environmental NGOs had threatened to lodge a formal complaint with the EU against the Għadira road project if it were accepted by Mepa.

They said the project, as proposed by the Malta Transport Authority (ADT), was based on the claim that the existing road was causing beach erosion. In the absence of any scientific evidence of erosion and its causes, they said Mepa should inform the ADT that the project was a non-starter.

The ministry’s decision to suspend its plan was welcomed by Alternattiva Demokratika spokesman Carmel Cacopardo. “This is another case of the government backtracking on a project it had embarked on before having the necessary basic studies in hand. AD looks forward to more studies so if the project is reconsidered in the future, both the beach and the nature reserve would be protected,” Mr Cacopardo said.

Mr Pye’s study is posted on the ministry’s website at http://mitc.gov.mt .