Wednesday, 9th April 2014

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Planning commission wants more detail on Europa stadium project

by Eyleen Sheil

PLANNING MATCH: GFA president Desmond Reoch (centre) arrives for the DPC meeting yesterday. 


The Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) has been ordered by the Development and Planning Commission (DPC) to stop unauthorised work that was being carried out on the site of the proposed Europa Point stadium.

The order to stop came at yesterday’s DPC meeting when it was discovered that the GFA had been conducting site investigations including drilling at Europa Point without the correct permissions to do so.


 

 The DPC also asked the GFA to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and an Appropriate Assessment (AA) and report back to the Commission on both.

These documents will be made public and there will also be a consultation period.

The decision came at the end of a packed public meeting during which various camps in the stadium debate set out their respective views on the project.

The audience was clearly divided but the session unfolded in mutual respect, punctuated by occasional cheers and rounds of applause from both sides, depending on who was speaking.

The GFA explained the design behind the project, which it said would be of much wider benefit to the community.

But objectors set out their concerns that the stadium would spell the end for Europa Point.

For their part, the two Gibraltar Government ministers sitting on the DPC voiced doubts about the scheme, which is a GFA project but will be built on public land.

Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said: “I remain to be convinced on a number of issues.”

Minister for the Environment, Dr John Cortes said: “I am not in a position right now to support this design and application.”


GFA PROJECT

Mark Fenwick the principal architect on the project together with chairman of the GFA Desmond Reoch, proposed their outline application.

Mr Fenwick spoke of five locations that the GFA looked at and admitted that he was not part of the decision making process when it came to selected Europa Point, he said: “I am an architect I build on the site I am given.”

Aside from Europa Point, the five sites and some of the reasons Mr Fenwick gave for not using them are as follows:

Victoria Stadium - 30 sports will be lost, not north south orientated and therefore FIFA would never accept Gibraltar as a member.

Devil’s Tower Camp – Access issues, some buildings would have to be demolished and it belongs to the MOD.

Lathbury Barracks – Access issues and is deemed an area of conservation.

Eastside Reclamation – an extremely valuable commercial site.

Naval Ground – a road goes right through it and it would be difficult in the city.

Mr Fenwick took the Commission through a presentation that is similar to the exhibition the GFA held in Casemates, he detailed how the stadium was designed, the materials they aim to use, the thought process regarding environmental elements such as the wind factor, traffic plans, plans for conference facilities and retail space.

He also said that the stadium would be a multi-purpose venue and that it could be used to host school sports days, it could have an area for old age pensioners, a medical centre for sports related injuries or a library with sport related books.

He said: “We try to make stadiums work from birth to the grave.” However, he also said that the stadium will belong to the GFA and it will be at their discretion as to what the building will be used for and at what cost to a user.

Mr Fenwick explained that there is no document in which UEFA insists on the need for a category four stadium. However, he suggested that UEFA appeared to be pushing for this nonetheless.

There is very little difference in the size of a category three and four stadium, the main difference relates to the space allocated to media. By having a category four stadium the GFA can host and screen finals of international games, the revenue generated from this has not been disclosed but is said to be around four million.

On the topic of orientation of the pitch, Mr Fenwick said that UEFA does not make this an obligation but a recommendation. Site objectors said that Wembley has an east west orientation as do many other UEFA category stadiums. Mr Fenwick said that he as an architect believes it to be an obligation.

Mr Fenwick was asked various questions from the Commission members, including one from Janet Howitt who asked if a temporary stadium could be used for the three to four games that will be played each year.

Mr Fenwick explained that these types of stadiums often have the toilets outside in a portacabin and that due to the scaffolding used to erect it some views may be obscured. In addition, he said that it would not be a quality stadium for people to enjoy.


OBJECTORS

Nine people, representing 42 others, made representations to the Commission opposing the plan.

They included Trinity House, the owners of the lighthouse, which would be lost if the planning application for Europa Point is granted.

Acting on their behalf, Triay Stagnetto and Neish lawyer Kelly Power told the Commission that the lighthouse is essential to the area as it helps protect the lives of mariners crossing the straits.

She said that her clients were not against the building of the stadium, but would not withdraw their objection until they are satisfied that an alternative is offered that they are happy with.

Yael Benady spoke about the number of signatures their petition received, some 1,636 online and 5,088 in person. She said all signatures have been validated and that campaigners could confirm that these people are either resident in Gibraltar or have strong ties and connections with the Rock.

She also told the Commission that she and the protestors are not against a stadium and that they do support Gibraltar being in UEFA, they just do not want to see the stadium being built at Europa.

“My argument is to save Europa Point,” she said.

David Dumas, QC, said: “I can’t believe we are all sitting here thinking of erecting this monstrosity of a building,” and there is “a decreasing amount of space for recreation here in Gib.”

Mr Dumas listed issues he believes arise if the Commission give permission to build, citing various parts of the Development Plan and Town Planning Act he said many aspects of this building would be against the act and it could result in a court case.

Pleading with the Commission, he said: “You are guardians of the battlement and protectors of Gibraltar all we can do is appeal to your better judgement.”

Clive Edwards, addressed the Commission and appealed for them not to be blinded by the over excitement of entry into UEFA and reminded the Commission “you represent us, please remember that.”

On the plans that the GFA had laid out before, referring to Mr Fenwick, Mr Edwards said: “the architect has a lot of honey on his tongue.”

Another point Mr Edwards made was that Europa Point is the only flat area in Gibraltar for the thousands of elderly or disabled people can go as going up the Rock is not assessable to all.

Rebecca Faller, who owns cottages at the lighthouse, spoke on behalf of herself and others including the lighthouse keeper Terry.

Believing that many people are stating what they think is best for the area, she said: “You do not know Europa Point unless you live there.” She said you would know nothing of the many road closures due to weather or rock falls and you would not know that they spend a lot of money washing their houses and cars to keep them free of salt crystals.

Referring to the lighthouse, she said that if it goes so do Terry and his wife as he will lose his job and home in one go. The couple have been there 30 years.

Aware that if the stadium goes ahead the light from the house would be relocated, she asked: What is the point of a lighthouse with no light?

Finally, she said: “Sorry for being emotional but we really care….Save The Lighthouse.”

Tommy Finlayson spoke to the Commission and immediately told them that if permission is granted it would break clauses in the Planning Act and the approval could be quashed in court.

Mr Finlayson also noted that the stadium would be against the policy on tourism, as Europa Point is a major tourist attraction.

Commenting directly on what the architect said regarding locations, Mr Finlayson said he was pleased that Mr Fenwick has admitted that the stadium would fit in at least three other locations.

Mr Finlayson also noted that the 27 questions they drafted and submitted to the GFA have not been answered.

Isabella Guillem, spoke of UEFA’s sporting history and that none of the smaller nations has ever qualified for a final. Because of this she believes that a category four stadium is not necessary and upgrading Victoria Stadium to a category three would suffice.

She said: “We do not want Europa Point to change for the interest of any organisation” and “We do not want an urban site, we want an open area.”

Trevor Hammond, chairman of the GSD, cited aesthetics for the reason for his objection and said: “from most perspectives it looks like an aircraft hangar.”

Michael Neish, spoke on behalf of himself and 30 colleagues. Agreeing with UEFA that Europa Point is an iconic location, he said: “It is an iconic location until a monstrosity of a stadium is built there.”

“How can future generations forgive us for this,” he added.

Mr Neish believes that even if the transportation by bus of fans was possible and was able to be carried out in a timely manner he does not believe that the roads or Gibraltar’s infrastructure would cope with this load.

Appealing directly to the Commission he said: “Making decisions while in euphoria is a recipe for disaster.”

“I urge you to vote this insane proposal down,” he added.


 

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