Strategic plans are not difficult to put together so long as one has the creative vision that extends beyond the immediate obstacles. What makes a strategic plan credible is not so much the eloquence of the narration or the clarity of the concepts on which it is based. It is the honest and often cruel acknowledgement of the weaknesses and threats that need to be overcome to achieve the stated objectives.
The Gozo Regional Development Authority has proposed, for public consultation, a 40-page strategic document entitled ‘A Shared Vision for Gozo’. It is intended to define the island’s development priorities over the next 10 years. The eight priority areas span from spatial planning and sustainable urban development to sustainable tourism and social development.
The narrative of this document can hardly be faulted. It is a concise and well-written paper that abounds in buzzwords like “sustainable”, “excellence”, “innovation” and “creativity”. It rehashes a utopian though elusive vision of Gozo that has existed for decades.
Unfortunately, the various high-level proposals are arguably in conflict with making Gozo the ideal region many of its residents want it to be.
Gozo’s major threat today is the extension of the property development craze that has already ruined so much of Malta’s landscapes and townscapes.
The writers of the strategy document are, of course, aware of this risk. Still, rather than come out strongly against this contagious urge to overdevelop, they resort to understatements that emphasise the need to satisfy environmental and property development priorities.
The consultation document, for instance, argues that “due to its extremely small size, the use of space often brings with it an element of friction caused by different sectoral claims. In this context, Gozo requires a balanced approach where land use planning and sectoral policies are more in line with each other”.
This is the kind of Solomonic thinking that plasters over the lethal threat of overdevelopment in an island that urgently needs to be more environmentally conscious than Malta has been so far.
The tensions created by the desire to preserve the idyllic nature of Gozo and the need for modern connectivity and business opportunities are, of course, not new. Besides proposing a new ring road around Victoria, the strategy document resurrects the idea of building “an environmentally friendly airstrip to ease connectivity between Gozo and Malta”. One can only hope that this proposal does not generate the political heat it has caused over the decades, even since it was first put forward.
There is little that is new in the ‘Shared Vision for Gozo’. While this is a high-level document, it lacks an essential discussion on how the various projects will be financed. There are already serious doubts about the financial feasibility of building a tunnel to connect the two islands, which the government insists will be a public-private partnership venture.
The Gozo Regional Development Authority has published a practical Regional Impact Assessment system guide that will hopefully weed out the wishful thinking from the achievable objectives contained in this strategy.
Whatever is included in the final strategy document for Gozo, one can only hope that it will not become yet another version of a vision document that ignores the realities faced by the island.
It is crucially important for Gozitans to persuade politicians not to promote policies presented as enhancing the island’s development prospects and living up to environmental aspirations but which would, eventually, turn Gozo into a mini-Malta.
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