Cruise tourism is on the rise in the Maltese Islands, as indicated by a 2.5 percent increase of cruise passengers visiting the Grand Harbour, Malta’s natural port and focal point of the island, over the first three quarters of 2014 compared to 2013.
Malta’s strategic position in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea has allowed its Grand Harbour to evolve from a port-of-call to a home port, and access to multiple routes across the Mediterranean provides opportunities for further growth and diversification.
According to Competitiveness and Economic Growth Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, 2015 is “set to beat” this year’s number, with 525,000 expected passengers, following an estimated 510,000 passengers in 2014, and 431,397 in 2013.
But what are the implications of growing cruise tourism on other functions and uses of the port? Within the scope of the ENPI-funded Mare Nostrum Project, promoting coastal planning and management around the Mediterranean, the Maltese partner, Integrated Resources Management (IRMCo), has been studying coastal planning issues in the Grand Harbour. From their research, it becomes clear that the Grand Harbour is subject to many competing, and often conflicting land use pressures.
The Grand Harbour is a natural port with a long history, and has been described as the “historical, symbolical and political heart of the island” by participants in the case study research. The Grand Harbour accommodates a wide range of uses, including ship building and repair, neighborhoods, heritage sites, tourism, fishing and aquaculture.
These uses and their spatial and infrastructural demands are not always in harmony with each other. One example is the amendment of the local planning legislation in Senglea, a small city located on one of the peninsulas in the harbour, changing the desired land use from ‘residential’ to ‘maritime related uses’, to accommodate the creation of a cruise liner terminal and accompanying traffic arrangements. The resulting influx of large vessels and vehicles clashes with the historical and residential context of the city. Extension of the cruise industry will create further pressure on existing conflicts between various uses.
Apart from conflicts of interest in a limited space, the restriction of public access to open spaces emerged from the interviews and research as one of the main coastal planning issues in the Grand Harbour. The Grand Harbour area is a very densely populated area, where public space is severely limited and under constant pressure from further development and privatization.
The right of public access to the coastline, laid down in the Barcelona Convention, as well as in the Structure Plan, Malta’s national planning legislation, needs to be upheld, or even restored, where the coastline has been privatized. How will public access to the coastline be secured if the expanding cruise tourism sector will make further claims on the waterfront of the Grand Harbour?
The Mare Nostrum project aspires to address the coastal planning issues through bottom-up approaches, thereby stressing the importance of public participation in the planning process. IRMCo organized a number of local community workshops, bringing together representatives of local councils, community groups, environmental organisations, and local business owners and residents.
From the discussions a Charter grew organically, entitled: “The Local Communities’ Charter for livable cultural landscapes in our Grand Harbour: A Place for Our Children”. With the Charter the local community seeks to safeguard and share the Green & Blue Open Spaces of the Grand Harbour and secure the public’s right to access and participation in decisions that affect them and their environment.
This post was written by the team of IRMCo, one of the partners in the Mare Nostrum Project.Leave a reply →