The Gibraltar Government and the GSD exchanged stern words yesterday in the latest salvoes in an increasingly-acrimonious row over development and planning.
The row was sparked last week after the GSD raised concerns over plans to relocate GBC to new facilities on South Jumpers Bastion.
The GSD said the government was blaming past administrations instead of taking responsibility for current concerns about over-development and the loss of heritage.
But No.6 Convent Place hit back at the GSD’s “failed legacy” and accused the party of “being blind” to Gibraltar’s modern needs and the GSLP/Liberals’ work to safeguard heritage.
In a statement, the GSD said many people were concerned about noise, dust and pollution caused by “constant and extensive” development, urging a holistic approach to development that factored in overall quality of life.
It accused the government of ignoring public health concerns.
“It is not necessary to cite specific developments when the community is judging for itself the planning decisions made by Government,” said Trevor Hammond, the GSD spokesman for planning, environment and heritage.
“Its refrain that meetings of the Development and Planning Commission are now in public has become a mantra used to excuse Government’s poor judgement, [and] it must further be remembered that Government projects are not subject to the Commission.”
“I hear almost daily, and have done since being elected two years ago, the concerns of residents, which unfortunately fall on deaf ears as projects proceed against their objections and often against the views of the Heritage Trust.”
“Government should also remember that when in opposition, at a time when less development was taking place, they were critical of the amount of construction.”
“It is hypocrisy for them to now argue the opposite.”
Mr Hammond said the GSD was not arguing against the construction of new schools or affordable housing, but that construction projects should be planned to minimise impact on the surrounding environment.
He said recent projects had been to the detriment of education in Gibraltar, citing in particular the impact on Bayside School.
“The fact that a Minister has declared that every available space will be developed is deeply concerning,” he said.
He also dismissed government claims that there had not been public participation at the Development and Planning Commission under the GSD.
“In fact it was the GSD that changed the law and for the first time allowed public representations and advertisements of proposed planning applications,” he said.
“This was a dramatic change from the secrecy presided over by the first GSLP administration.”
GOVT HITS BACK
No.6 Convent Place said the government had spent six years rectifying the mistakes of former GSD administrations, while safeguarding and preserving Gibraltar’s heritage.
“From the Northern Defences to the Gibraltar International Bank and the University of Gibraltar, proper, effective town planning has enabled the old to enhance and give our unique character to the new modern Gibraltar of today,” it said in a statement.
The government repeated statements that it had intervened in a number of projects approved by the GSD so as to reduce the footprint and ensure space for green areas and parking.
It also referred to its creation and protection in law of Commonwealth Park.
“Contrary to the GSD’s belief, development can mean much more than utilitarian buildings; this Government is committed to purposeful planning that meets the needs of the community in a much more meaningful way, including providing for and protecting our limited green and open spaces,” it said, adding that the GSD had also planned a diesel power station in the nature reserve.
According to No.6 Convent Place, the government’s sensitivity to heritage issues was reflected in four Heritage Awards in 2017 and one last year for the conversion of the old Royal Naval Hospital.
The government also contrasted its support for the Gorham’s Cave UNESCO World Heritage site with the former GSD administration’s “misguided and short-sighted withdrawal” from the world heritage bid.
“Under this Government the bill for a new Town Planning Act is almost ready for publication after extensive consultation, Development and Planning Commission meetings are public – the minutes of which are also publicly available – and the government fully submits itself to all planning procedures as appropriate, for example as announced last week for the proposed Europa Walks project,” it added.
“After 16 years of GSD neglect, government estates have either been refurbished or are currently under refurbishment, and the urban renewal of the Upper Town is well under way, breathing new life into long-forgotten areas.”
“The GSD seem to be blind not only to their own legacy that they left for Gibraltar, but as to how this Government has reversed that legacy for the better.”
“Whilst this blindness leads them to a defensive stance of deflecting ‘blame’ the reality is that this government has spent six years correcting the errors and making up for the excuses that the GSD left behind.”
“In doing so, our holistic, sensitive and forward-looking approach to planning and development will create a better future than the GSD could ever have hoped to provide.”
“In fact, this was recognised by both their current party leader and their current Leader of the Opposition when both were members of another political party.”
“The GSD, as it stands, seem ignorant of their past, blind to the future and confused as to their own policies towards both.”