The GSD has questioned the Gibraltar Government’s decision to relocate GBC to South Jumper’s Bastion, raising concerns not just about this project but about the pace of development across the Rock.
While the GSD accepted that GBC had outgrown its current South Barracks location and needed new premises, it disagreed with both the choice of site and a design that “lacks sympathy” with the surrounding area.
“The GSD does not agree GBC should be relocated to the site proposed by Government,” said Trevor Hammond, the GSD’s spokesman for planning, heritage and the environment, who also complained about a piecemeal approach to planning decisions that had turned Gibraltar into a construction site.
But the criticism drew immediate flak from No.6 Convent Place, which said that many of the projects currently under construction dated back to when the GSD was in power, and that the GBC scheme had prior approval from the Development and Planning Commission [DPC].
“It is perfectly true that building and development causes an inconvenience to people,” a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place said.
“However, some of this is necessary in order to further the wider social and economic development of Gibraltar.”
“Development is of direct benefit to the economy, produces revenue and allows the Government to invest in order pursue projects like affordable homes, schools and sporting facilities.”
The GSD’s concerns about the GBC project highlighted wider issues that the Opposition believes the government should address.
It said construction of another structure on Gibraltar’s City Walls showed the government and Town Planning were failing to look at projects holistically and were instead dealing with projects in isolation.
“The Government’s proposals for Grand Parade and Minister Linares’s statement to the effect that Government will develop every available space lend weight to a growing concern in the community that there is too much development happening too fast,” Mr Hammond said.
“There remain many things to be concerned about regarding our environmental management and much to be done, the pace of construction and what developments are approved is of great importance because, whereas in other aspects of environmental management we can make strives to improve, we can improve our air quality, we can increase our use of renewable energy, when it comes to development it will be years before we can reverse any poor decisions, if they can ever be reversed.”
“This issue is important because over development in a community is a known cause of stress and stress is directly linked with public health issues ranging from heart disease to depression and if there is a phrase that I hear repeatedly it is that Gibraltar is just one big building site.”
The GSD urged the Gibraltar Government to “pause for thought” and adopt “a more sympathetic approach” to development.
“The community has welcomed the open space that was created with Commonwealth Park but other opportunities to exploit the few remaining open space are being squandered, vistas are disappearing, our heritage is under threat, our community is being hemmed in by construction,” Mr Hammond said.
But No.6 Convent Place countered that the criticism was “remarkable” because the Opposition “is not blameless” for the situation it was criticising, adding that permits, consents or agreements for some of the buildings under construction were entered into by the GSD while in government.
By way of example, it said the land which is today the site of both the Mid-Town and the King’s Wharf Projects was disposed of by the GSD, which came to agreements with developers who then sought and obtained planning permission accordingly at a time when meetings of the DPC were held in secret and without public input.
The government said it had been able to negotiate with the developers of both King’s Wharf and the Mid-town project to lower the height of the buildings and ensure public and leisure spaces, including access to the sea.
“Mr Hammond is free to like or dislike the structures that are going up, but he should bear in mind that what his Government had actually contemplated and agreed would have been much worse from his own perspective,” the spokesman for No.6 Convent Place said.
“Moreover, these structures outside the City Walls were in line with the GSD Government’s own Development Plan.”
The government argued that the new projects including the schools at old St Bernard’s site, the university and small boats marina, along with Mons Calpe Mews, Beachview Terraces and Charles Bruzon House would not have been built under Mr Hammond’s philosophy.
“Instead of making vague and general statements, the Opposition should state precisely what developments they are against,” the spokesman added.
“Would they have built new schools? Would they have built hundreds of affordable new homes?”
As for the GBC project, the development already had DPC clearance as a private office development.
“The latest announcement simply involves the rental of office space in that complex. The proposed changes are internal into a studio for GBC,” the spokesman said.