Balancing development and community needs
In a series of themed articles, the Chronicle will ask the GSLP/Liberals, the GSD and the Independent Social Democrat candidate for their thoughts on some of the most pressing issues facing Gibraltar. In this first instalment, they explore the challenge of balancing development and quality of life.
Gibraltar has finite space and a growing resident population that is living longer. Combined, these factors create knock-on pressures including increased demand for housing and basic services such as healthcare. They also impact on quality of life in an increasingly crowded footprint constantly under development.
What is their long-term plan for Gibraltar to address these challenges? How does Gibraltar find a balance that allows the delivery of developments and services needed by the community, while ensuring quality of life and protecting the physical environment and heritage within the tight constraints of the Rock?
A crucial balance
By Dr Joseph Garcia
The challenge between development and quality of life faces small territories like Gibraltar more acutely than in larger countries. The only ways in which that has traditionally been eased is through land reclamation or the use of surplus MOD land.
Gibraltar requires a thoughtful and comprehensive long-term plan to deal with pressures which include increased demand for housing, healthcare, and other basic services, while maintaining the quality of life we all enjoy. Finding the delicate balance between delivering the necessary developments and services and preserving our physical environment and heritage are crucial.
Our long-term plan involves a review of land use, zoning, and development regulations. We will prioritise mixed-use developments that use land efficiently, maximise the use of space, reduce congestion, and enhance quality of life. Development must produce a public gain.
And so last April we went out to tender for a new Gibraltar Development Plan to update the 2009 plan and provide the necessary structure and comprehensive review Gibraltar requires.
We have already ensured the use of The Mount and the Northern Defences as open leisure areas for the public to enjoy. These important sites will be added to Commonwealth Park, Campion Park and the Theatre Royal Park.
In government, we will invest in housing projects to ensure that Gibraltar remains a place where people of all incomes can find a home. We are proud of our commitment to affordable housing and have built more homes in our 12 years in office, despite COVID and despite Brexit, than anyone else.
Demand for healthcare services increases as population ages. Our long-term plans include continued investment in healthcare infrastructure and technology. We will particularly expand provision for elderly care, essential in the current population dynamics. The new census will be a very useful tool here.
Preserving Gibraltar's unique natural environment and heritage is of the utmost importance. We are proud to have been the Government to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status for our magnificent Gorham’s Cave complex. To strike a balance between development and environmental protection, we have implemented stringent controls for construction and land use, preserving green spaces and wildlife habitats. Additionally, we will continue to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency to reduce our environmental carbon footprint and achieve our Net Zero target.
It is our duty to protect and promote Gibraltar’s rich heritage. We will continue to allocate resources to the preservation and restoration of historic sites and landmarks. We are proud of our investment in our Heritage and the evidence is there for all to see. Additionally, with events such as Calentita, we have promoted cultural events that celebrate our unique culture and identity.
To alleviate congestion and improve transportation, we will continue to invest in modern and sustainable infrastructure. We will expand our public transportation system, improve our roads, and promote alternative modes of transport. We have now granted the tender for the production of our Wastewater Treatment Plant, further enhancing our infrastructure.
Investing in education and skills is crucial. In the past 12 years we have built 10 magnificent new schools which is an unprecedented investment. We will provide more educational programmes and vocational training to empower our students with the knowledge and skills needed for the jobs of the future. This, in turn, will strengthen our workforce and economic resilience.
We will work to reposition the economy and reduce our dependence on Spain. This will involve diversification to create a more balanced economy supporting the growth of emerging industries, will attract significant investment and will provide more job opportunities.
Gibraltar faces unique challenges due to its limited space and a growing, aging population. Our vision for the future is one of balance: balancing development with environmental protection, quality of life with economic growth, and heritage preservation with modernisation. Our long-term plan is rooted in sustainable urban planning, affordable housing for our community, continued healthcare investment, environmental protection, and heritage preservation. Additionally, economic and touristic diversification and education are essential components of our strategy.
By working together with our community, local businesses, and private sector partners, we can navigate the challenges. Gibraltar's unique character, culture, and environment are worth preserving and enhancing.
Vote for the ten GSLP/Liberal candidates to get the job done!
The risk is an anonymous city
By Damon Bossino
The questions raised speak to an existential reality, as well as an often reiterated and patently obvious point: Gibraltar is a small place with immense demands placed on it, for the limited space which is available.
One of these demands is the need for social and affordable housing. In this, the GSD is fully committed to ambitiously tackle this issue.
Many young and not so young Gibraltarians are either living in conditions of squalor in some parts of the old town or unable to progress in life because they simply cannot afford the going market rates.
Dealing with this social issue will be critical to any incoming government – we do not pretend to have all the solutions or to be in a position to wave a magic wand (people are tired of promises which are made in the knowledge that they cannot be kept) - but we need to make a start in the right direction.
The delays and failure by the GSLP-Liberal Alliance on the delivery of the affordable housing developments is leading to a lost generation of Gibraltarians.
Gibraltarians in their 20s and early 30s, who currently do not even have the possibility of getting onto the property ladder.
Many are putting their lives on pause, in what must feel like an eternity, which prevents them from starting or expanding a family.
Even where developments are being completed, such as Hassan Centenary Terraces, these have been significantly delayed or worse are almost at a standstill, such as Bob Peliza Mews.
The undeniable fact is that on this, as in so much, the GSLP-Liberal Alliance has failed, despite promises which were made when the clouds of Brexit and Covid were not even in the horizon.
The GSD are committed to prioritising the completion of these projects as a matter of priority.
Further, subject to the state of public finances, we will commit as soon as it is feasible to build units for social housing, while engaging in the construction of further affordable homes.
Key to our approach will be to work on a comprehensive audit of all available public and private housing on offer in Gibraltar.
Only by understanding the state of play regarding housing availability can we truly grapple with this ever-present social problem. Only by addressing this issue head-on will we make concerted moves to deal with Gibraltar’s housing crisis.
Beyond these measures, the GSD will also seek to tackle the Gibraltar we want to live in.
This means addressing quality of life, infrastructure, amenities, environment, aesthetics and heritage, among other issues.
For us, these are not secondary issues, but the flesh and bone which are fundamental to how we live in such a limited area as ours.
It is precisely because we are small that we have to consider these issues with greater sensitivity and care. Wellbeing and quality of life are critical to GSD’s core thinking.
This means stepping back from converting Gibraltar into an unsightly and ungainly concrete jungle. A process we can all see to ill-effect at Devil’s Tower Road.
This blighted construction frenzy has known negative social impacts, not to mention the loss of self-identity as our heritage is wantonly destroyed or emasculated.
This seemingly cowboy approach to development has the knock-on effect of making Gibraltar a less attractive place for tourists, bringing with it the risk of loss of revenue from this income stream.
We need a Gibraltar Development Plan. The government is delayed now by a number of years in producing one.
We need the Development Planning Commission to be given necessary guidance to mitigate against the ever-rising tide of tall, listless, grey concrete constructions that increasingly scar our Gibraltar.
In this sense, we will consider all new developments in their context. Traffic rationalisation, schools, shops, and other amenities, while also reconnecting with our rich heritage are important considerations.
Otherwise we run the risk of allowing Gibraltar to become another anonymous city.
We are committed to ensuring that we have a more sophisticated, considered and medium to long-term approach to these issues as will be revealed in our manifesto.
Independent Social Democrat
No easy way out
By Robert Vasquez
Availability of money in the public coffers to pay for solutions is a main consideration when dealing with the limited space available for the housing and healthcare needs of a longer living growing population. The wastefulness, overspending, and misguided spending of past GSLP-Liberal and GSD Governments has massively worsened the shortage of public money for those purposes and so many others. All those matters will need to be dealt with in coming years by those who are elected.
Measures are needed to balance the current account, including having to find money to pay down the £450 million Covid-19 pandemic borrowings, and to ensure paying the cost of the additional approximately £1.4 billion of direct and indirect public debt.
There is no easy way out. Money to reduce public debt must come from government revenues, in the main collected from each of us, and measures to control expenditure, whilst refinancing of borrowings will also be possible whilst the economy remains robust.
The issue in the context of housing and healthcare for a growing aging population is that for many years there will be limited money available to meet their needs. The money will have to be found, as the problem will not go away, so funding those in priority to other areas will be essential.
Public housing rentals need to be reviewed to ensure that the means of each tenant is considered. Means testing must be introduced to ensure fairness. Consideration must be given to charging Rates separately from rents at the same level as private housing from those who can afford it. Revenues from those sources will help fund the building of new rental public housing to benefit all.
Presently government loses revenue due to Development Aid: wealthy developers profit without paying tax. It helps the sale of luxury apartments by giving Rates reductions to wealthy buyers. A revision is needed so that type of aid is available only for developers of social housing for the truly needy.
The 50/50 scheme needs review to ensure it helps the right people. The financial means of each should have a place in deciding what percentage of public funds will help a buyer. Misuse needs to be investigated and dealt with. Regular reviews of the means of beneficiaries are needed to achieve the purchase of publicly owned equity, if it is affordable by an owner.
Monies raised by those means should be allocated to a fund for use to build future social housing. Aside from government funding social housing, there is a need for private developers to be incentivised to build such housing by reducing expenditure caused to them by government.
Space is indeed limited. It needs to be used with optimum efficiency. Decanting and downsizing people as their needs reduce is necessary. Additionally, inducements that attract wealthy people to buy housing need careful consideration.
The way forward is to build up, and for added space to be reclaimed from the sea. Whatever the aesthetic arguments might be, the harsh reality of limited space must be accepted. Building however must not be at the cost of what are the characteristic features that make Gibraltar unique. Those must be preserved and improved.
Turning to healthcare of the elderly, the hard truth is that there is no avoiding reality. It is a cost that must be met. It is a growing cost that will have to be paid from available funds. What must be achieved is efficiency and good use of money, with uncovered areas of over-expenditure reduced.
Quality of life in Gibraltar has generally been good because space limitations have always been an accepted reality. Many take to the sea to expand their horizons. The help provided by a fluid frontier is obvious. At the same time, it is wonderful to see how adaptive the community is, with full acceptance of what life in Gibraltar is.
We must do our best to protect the physical environment, so within the limitations of size and affordability, policies to boost the lungs of the world and deal with environmental matters must be implemented. We should closely follow scientific innovation and introduce resources that help the environment, whilst adapting to available space and means.