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Opinion & Analysis

Development dilemma on Devil's Tower Road

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

By Dr Keith Farrell

The Development and Planning Commission's meeting of the 19th July brought into focus a number of issues which are of interest and concern to the general public and developers alike.

In particular it exposed the absence of current official guidance for the current and future development in the area of Devil's Tower Road.

The 2009 Gibraltar Development Plan, which is the general guide for building development in Gibraltar, is supposed to be updated and revised every 10 years.

We all know it is already three years late and shows no sign of being published any time soon.

In its present form it is totally out of date particularly with respect to development along Devils Tower Road (DTR).

Its summary on the subject says "proposals for fronting DTR will normally be given favourable consideration".

Since 2009 when only North View Terrace, Wellington Court and a few other smaller residential areas existed, this statement in the Gibraltar Development Plan was entirely appropriate.

However, in the last few years we have seen along DTR right up to its eastern end a large number of blocks and very high towers built, and the next phase of development will include an even larger number of very tall towers and large masses of building being constructed.

In the past the building height restrictions close to the airport were a way of reducing the impact of what we now see in the area and in particular the damaged visual impact of our iconic views of the north face of the Rock.

The pendulum appears to have swung in the direction of virtually no restriction on the height of buildings in the area, maybe up to 30+ storeys.

As is often the case, the question we need to ask ourselves is what is driving this surge of interest in developing the area?

Is it maximizing the returns on investment rather than evidence based perceived need in the middle and long term for the construction of yet more apartments?

There has long been an argument that high rise development outside of the old town reduces the development pressure there.

This is not totally true as even in the old town developers have pushed for buildings well in excess of the 4+/- 1 general formula.

There has to be development guidance either in the form of a new Gibraltar Development Plan or at the very least a special review of the Devils Tower Road area to help manage developers' expectations of what is achievable and what kind of financial returns they can get from their investment.

In Gibraltar’s present financially compromised position, the idea of thousands of building workers paying taxes into the government coffers seems an attractive short term solution.

What however will be legacy of this policy?

We will have a mass of high rise and mass construction blighting the view of our famous rock, as well as a dark and depressing concrete and glass wind tunnel perpetually in the shadow of each other which will not be appealing to anyone to live in.

The DPC on the 19th July appealed for a holistic approach to the present and future development of DTR.

You will recall that this is what the three NGOs on the DPC called for in 2019 when the Hassan Centenary Terraces towers were proposed.

We are at risk of having buildings as high as Hassan Centenary Terraces or even higher along the road.

There needs to be planning guidance on the staggering of building heights to avoid a flat-topped skyline which is particularly unattractive.

Reviewing the DTR development strategy is well overdue.

It is unfair to pass this ad hoc development pressure on to the Town Planning Department and other members of the DPC and it is equally unfair that developers have no official guidance when putting together their architectural designs and financial planning packages together for a project in the DTR area the outcome of which is both uncertain and unpredictable.

A Gibraltar Development Plan or a specific module for Devil's Tower Road is now essential for all concerned with our built environment both to have an idea of what we can all expect and in order to avoid any poor planning decision that we will regret for generations to come.

Dr Keith Farrell is the chairman of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust. The Trust sits on the Development and Planning Commission.

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