Dubai comes to Tuscany with tourist island plan

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Environmentalists and lovers of Tuscany are up in arms over a plan unveiled by municipal officials yesterday to emulate Dubai and build a horseshoe-shaped cement island 1,000m off the pristine coast of Forte dei Marmi, one of the most civilised beach resorts in the province of Lucca.

"There is great interest in this," James Popper, the town's alderman for public works, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "We already have had proposals from companies who want to participate." He said an architect, Sergio Pelletti, based the project on pioneering designs used by the United Arab Emirates. "The idea is to build a tourist island like the one in Dubai."

Mr Pelletti envisages moorings for 500 yachts on the island, which would also house a luxury hotel, shops, an aquarium, a conference and exhibition centre and two swimming pools.

At first, small ferries would take tourists from the Forte dei Marmi beach but Corriere quoted sources in the council as saying they also hope to build an underwater tunnel, and use electrically-driven vehicles.

The newspaper said the idea sounded like the brainchild of "a spendfree Russian magnate in love with Tuscany", rather than a serious proposal by elected representatives in an enchanting area of the coast.

The town was born from construction of a fortress in 1788 for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold I. It has been a haunt of artists and industrialists for generations and hosts an annual Puccini festival.

The Corriere called the plan worthy of the pharaohs, with an estimated cost of at least €100m (£70m). But the potential environmental impact, rather than the expense, provoked protest from Fabio Roggiolani, leader of the Tuscan branch of the environmentalist Verdi (Greens) party.

"It is madness to say they want to imitate Dubai," he said. "Behind Dubai there is the desert but behind Forte dei Marmi there is a cultural heritage to preserve and value. Tossing tons of cement into the sea would mean disturbing the marine panorama and eroding the beach already at risk."

Mr Roggiolani said other environmentally doubtful projects had been proposed on the surrounding Versilia coastline. "Instead of influenza, people have caught the virus of putting cement in the sea," he added.

But Mr Pelletti's team say building the island a kilometre from the beach would guard against erosion, the only likely effect being a 200m-wide girdle of sand on the island.

The plan is also opposed by Forte dei Marmi's influential association of bathing establishments.

"This seems like a Peter Pan island fantasy and I hope it stays like that for ever," the chairman, Umberto Buratti, said. "An eruption of cement in the sea is dangerous. It doesn't take much to upset the delicate natural balance here."