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Gozo Landscape - courtesy of Daniel Cilia

Change is needed now in Gozo

The Gozo Regional Development Authority (GRDA) in the past months launched a new 10-year regional development strategy for Gozo. This strategy is being welcomed by the Għal Għawdex forum.

The opening theme of this strategy, ‘An Island of Villages’, states: “Gozo has distinctive  characteristics both physical as well as social, that form part of Gozo’s heritage and its identity.

However, the forum reiterates the comments made by its spokesperson during the launch event last September that, while it supports the strategy, “a vast chasm exists between the writing of a strategic document and the actual implementation of its goals and vision which depends on political will, commitment and long-term vision from politicians”.

The forum believes that there is a requirement for urgent attention to the three thematic areas identified by the strategy: (1) promotion of sensible use of land and the natural environment, (2) realignment of economic growth with well-being and (3) the enhancement of Gozo’s identity.

Real reform is required.

The promotion of sensible use of land

The island’s built and natural environment is under siege and has suffered enormously through a system that allows the wrong use of land resources. Villages and village squares, ridge and village skylines and areas of once pristine countryside continue to be negatively impacted from the present uncontrolled construction of characterless flats, many of which are too small to bring up a family, too basic for the quality tourist and too tasteless for long-term foreign residents or digital nomads.

Realignment of economic growth with well-being

Gozo’s economy is heavily reliant on sectors, such as construction, which do not represent a sustainable economic model. Moreover, the added externalities caused by construction heavily impact the tourism sector and investment in infrastructure has not moved in line with the intensity of the development taking place. The concept of well-being is becoming a scarcity when families are constantly living in fear of big new developments sprouting up next door, robbing our homes of sunlight, privacy, views, tranquillity and peace of mind.

 

Gozo’s built and natural environment is under siege– Godfrey Swain

 

The enhancement of Gozo’s identity

Gozo’s identity, its unique charm, peacefulness, authenticity as well as its natural beauty are disappearing. The intensity and the type of development taking place are leading the island to lose its competitive edge when compared to other destinations in the Mediterranean.

The way forward

Not all is yet lost. The Għal Għawdex forum believes there is a fast-growing sense of realisation that change needs to come about now, not later. The forum wants economic growth in Gozo and strongly supports renovation and restoration of vernacular buildings as well as new aesthetically pleasing development and construction that is in line with the island’s strategic and economic goals that beautifies rather than uglifies the island.

The first point of the forum’s eight-point plan, to preserve “an island of villages within a modern world”, has already been accepted by the government and included in the new regional strategy. In fact, from among the proposals of Għal Għawdex, the government and the GRDA took and adopted the “Island of Villages” tag line.

In the 2023 Budget, the government took the step of removing the stamp duty incentive in Gozo. This incentive was needed several years ago. However, it then became part of the problem because of its indiscriminate applicability. Nonetheless, the budget did not implement anything close to the full scope of the Għal Għawdex fiscal proposals. These would have shifted demand and supply patterns and encouraged restoration and renovation of traditional Gozitan architectural heritage, stimulating economic activity.

We do not yet see real signs of the political will necessary to implement the many other fiscal and policy recommendations, to launch a new regional plan for Gozo, extend UCA boundaries, restrict building on ODZ, designate Gozo as a design priority area, enforce the buffer zone around scheduled buildings and direct the PA to observe already existing policies, rules and regulations – allowing no loopholes or creative ways to bypass local plans.

The forum’s stakeholders still hope that its proposals to the government will be accepted and implemented. We are prepared to work closely with the government and the GRDA to drive real positive change and strong economic growth within a sustainable vision for Gozo.

The future of Gozo, its identity, uniqueness, charm and long-term prosperity depend on this.

Godfrey Swain is a member of the Għal Għawdex group.

News source: Times of Malta