The plan to construct a permanent link between Malta and Gozo has fallen victim to the various crises affecting the global economy, which have forced the Government to spend hundreds of millions in various subsidies, leaving little left over for multi-billion national projects.

On Sunday, MaltaToday quoted sources who said that the tunnel has been ‘shelved’, with long-term implications remaining unclear. However, it is clear that the project will not be proceeding for now.

The Gozo Business Chamber has decried the implication that this project will be permanently or indefinitely shelved, arguing that doing so effectively hamstrings Gozo’s economic development.

In comments made to BusinessNow.mt, the organisation’s CEO, Daniel Borg, says that short-term national planning prevents businesses from making long-term commitments.

“Every plan for Gozo seems to be ‘temporary’. Yesterday, we heard that the Government will give the fast ferry operators €12 million to guarantee better service for the next two years. That service is certainly important, and after these two years are up, we will need to look at the long term.”

The fast ferry situation, for Mr Borg, is another example of the ad hoc nature of plans for Gozo’s connectivity.

“We need to remember that there are no avenues to get to Gozo. The Government has spent hundreds of millions on improving Malta’s roads – but for Gozitans, the sea is our road. Playing with near-term solutions means we are playing with the present and future of many people.

A permanent link, on the other hand, would eliminate all these uncertainties regarding accessibility, including vulnerability to weather conditions.

He admits that the ongoing COVID-19 recovery and the energy and food price shocks resulting from the war in Ukraine need to take precedence, for the time being, but warned against dropping plans for the tunnel entirely.

“We understand that, right now, other matters take priority. However, this project needs to remain on the national agenda,” he says. “We have a tendency to work in the short term, losing all the good work done in terms of studies and proposals, only to go back to the drawing board years later.”

He reacts to comments linking plans for the tunnel to Gozo’s overdevelopment, saying that the tunnel issue needs to be delinked from other aspects.

“Overdevelopment in Gozo is a reality, and we have come out very strongly on this matter. We have also received considerable flak for this, but we will continue to speak about it.”

He continues: “However, overdevelopment is a current reality. It is a planning problem.”

In fact, he warns against any notions that shelving the tunnel could reduce development pressures on Gozo. “We cannot shift the problem of overdevelopment to the tunnel. They are different issues, and one does not depend on the other. We will only be fooling ourselves if we believe that cutting plans for a permanent link will in any way solve the overdevelopment that is afflicting the island.”

Mr Borg also pushed back against comments made by the Malta Employers Association that linked plans for a metro to the tunnel, saying that, “if anything, the tunnel suffered from a lack of PR effort as that expended for the metro”.

He points out that while a majority of Gozitans were in favour of the tunnel at the outset, this shifted to a majority being against, as conflicting information, lack of transparency, and negative campaigning by opponents changed people’s views.

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