Proposed Marsascala yacht marina concession could have a value of €183 million

Last Updated on Monday, 16 August, 2021 at 8:24 am by Andre Camilleri

Transport Malta’s proposed Marsascala yacht marina concession could have a value of around €183 million across 50 years, The Malta Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Calculations and research by Transport Malta placed the estimated procurement value of the project – which would dominate Marsascala Bay if it goes through – at €183,233,983 based on the estimated turnover across a concession term of 50 years.

The data emerges from a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire for the awarding of a concession contract for the design, construction, financing, operation, and maintenance of an “environmentally friendly” marina in Marsascala Bay. 

The questionnaire was published by Transport Malta through the government’s online procurement portal on Friday morning, before being reported on by NGOs and The Malta Independent later in the day – reports which heralded outraged reactions from members of the public.

The scope of the concession, according to the project brief in Transport Malta’s questionnaire, is to develop Marsascala into a yachting centre, which would make “it and the southern region area more appealing to the tourist industry.”

Indeed, the background to the concession questionnaire gives a long-winded explanation of how the fact that marina infrastructure can be found mainly in the north of Malta leaves “obvious potential” for the development of marinas in the southern regions of Malta.

“Demand for berthing facilities continues to exceed the existing capacity and hence the Government of Malta is committed to identifying additional sites for the development of new marinas with the objective of stimulating further growth of this industry”, it reads.

“In April 2009, the Government of Malta had published a document entitled the ‘Development of Yachting Facilities in Malta’. The scope of this document was to identify potential sites suitable for all weather marinas and others that could be considered for establishing temporary and seasonal marinas. It outlined the possibility of developing a marina at Marsascala”, it continues.

It’s a project which could prove to be an economic boon for whoever wins it, given the estimated €183,233,983 turnover in 50 years – a value which Transport Malta said was being submitted as guidance for bidders rather than as a binding capping price.

The project being a concession contract – rather than a tender – means that neither Transport Malta nor the government will have to pay a cent for the project to go ahead.  It will be the chosen concessionaire who has to foot all the bills for construction and maintenance – although they will then hang on to any revenue they make themselves.

The concessionaire has to prove that it has a certain element of financial muscle when submitting for the concession, but it also has to prove that it has “the necessary technical and professional capabilities to undertake the project” – something it can do by showing information of similar projects which it worked on from 2010 to the present day.

Such “similar projects” are defined as Marina Design, Infrastructure, Development and Construction, and Marina Management and Operation.

What will the project look like?

It’s too early to say thus far what the project will look like, because that ultimately depends on what the eventual chosen concessionaire designs.

However, Transport Malta have included a preliminary design of the marina, which essentially shows how the bay will end up being chock full of berth spots and how land will be reclaimed across different parts of the bay.

As explained in the project’s own description, it shall include the design, supply and installation of pontoons, mooring bays, and other infrastructure including a breakwater, together with the necessary and ancillary equipment and safety installations for the provision of berthing services established in the area for the berthing of vessels.

The layout of the yacht Marina is expected to substantially increase the current berthing capacity to a minimum of at least 700 berths in the Marina pertaining to the Project, while the concessionaire will also be expected to host and provide for a re-organisation of the current 567 berth holders.

Excluding those 567 current berth holders, the marina should be organised with 20% dedicated to vessels between 1 and 12 metres in length, 50% dedicated to vessels of between 13 and 23 metres in length, 25% to vessels of 24 to 36 metres in length, and the remaining 5% to vessels larger than 36 metres in length.

Smaller vessels will be berthed in the inner part of the marina, whereas the larger vessels will be in the outer part, according to the document’s requirements.

The plans show the need for dredging – a practice which is incredibly damaging to the bay’s underwater habitat – in at least four different places.

The plans also propose that land be reclaimed in three separate areas the total area of which would be of 16,000 square metres.

The reactions

The project has been met with mostly negative feedback.

Marsascala PN minority leader John Baptist Camilleri described the project as “suicide” for the town – with many sharing his views, although one commenter compared the project more to a “murder” than a suicide.

When contacted, however, Marsascala Mayor Mario Calleja said he would not comment on the project before it is discussed at a council meeting on Tuesday.

NGO Moviment Graffitti blasted the project, saying that the project was excessive and would take up a lot of public space which people use for swimming and recreation.

They questioned why this project was necessary and how Transport Malta could call it environmentally friendly when there is a lot of dredging involved.

“This project is not in the public interest, but is in the interest of certain businessmen who want to make hay without respecting the community which they are in”, they said.

The Nationalist Party said in a press conference that large scale projects like the Marsascala marina need to start with a proper impact assessment and consultation of residents.

PN chief spokesperson Peter Aguis said: “The project being proposed is disproportionate and does not include environmental safeguards. No studies were conducted for instance on how the project would affect the currents in the bay with the proposed land reclamation and 700 mooring points potentially leading to water stagnation in the inner parts of the bay. Nor has the proposed development considered how the dredging and development would affect the “Maghluq” a unique brackish water ecosystem, habitat of the only Maltese brackish water fish: il-Bużaqq.”

A new Nationalist government would conduct full environmental and economic impact assessments before considering such developments after consulting residents and business owners to ensure that any development does not result in a net loss for the community, the PN said.

What happens next?

The pre-qualification questionnaire issued by Transport Malta is the very first step in the concession process.

Interested bidders have until 11 October to submit their questionnaire responses, after which the shortlisted bidders will then be invited to submit all the necessary details for the marina, as per the concession requirements.

Once the winning bidder is selected by the Evaluation Committee – the members of which are not named in the questionnaire – they will then have to draft up plans to go before the Planning Authority and seek permission.

The whole concession in fact hinges on whether the project gets clearance from the PA and from the Environment & Resources Authority.

The 2006 local plan for Marsascala shows that the bay has already been earmarked for a yacht marina or a maritime-related development – meaning that the planning policy groundwork for the project to go through is already there.

However, despite this, it’s difficult to say from now – given that no actual designs by the concessionaire have been drafted of course – whether the PA would look favourably upon such a project.

What’s certain though is that this project may ultimately prove to be one of the biggest environmental battlegrounds for the years and decades to come.

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