Devil’s Tongue project raises concerns as developer calls for deferment
The outline planning permission for the Devil’s Tongue project on Queensway has been deferred following yesterday’s meeting of the Development and Planning Commission. The deferment was at the request of the developer Hepta Ltd wanting to carry out further work based on the feedback received.
Two members from the project’s architects from 1508 London were on the Rock to present the project to the members of the Commission yesterday.
Designer Director Ailsa Connery and Associate Architect Tom Adams described their vision of the design and how they sought to maximise space, vistas, existing structures and improve traffic flow for the area.
Mr Adams called it a “landmark location” but it was “disjointed” from the Ocean Village area and that of the Old Town.
He described the scheme as one “that protected and enhanced the existing historic city wall but also aid and assist the traffic flow by increasing the width of the access routes around it.”
Ms Connery said that she was aware that sometimes when you call it a landmark site it is cliché but in the case of this site “it is actually true”.
She also noted that the development would bring employment and “good quality housing to the area.”
“Enhancing the quality of life,” was another focus noting the amenities of the development.
The developer is keen to have people use bicycles or walk. Taking this into account the plan is to widen Devil’s Tongue and realign the highway, pedestrianise Queensway Road and connect it to Waterport and Casemates and create new bus interchanges around the site.
The plans are for a proposed multi - 15 storey mixed use development (with another two floors at basement level for a car park), which includes residential, commercial, retail, cafes/restaurants and an underground car park for 78 cars and 78 motorbikes.
On the ground floor, there will be commercial units, an office entrance and a residential entrance.
The first floor will consist of retail and residential back of house. The next five floors will be used as office space.
The seventh to thirteenth floors will residential apartments and the remaining two floors will house duplex penthouses.
The developer also notes that via a connection to the old city wall there is the possibility of a park called Linear Park to be created.
When presenting the project to the DPC the architects also answered questions from the Commission. Dr John Cortes asked if the Linear Park was part of the application.
“You are using the various exciting opening up of the walls, the greening of the area and the walkways, to sell your product.
From what I can read, and my understanding of what you are saying, it is that this would be something nice ‘to have’, and it is not part of your project,” commented Dr Cortes.
The architects did not give him a straight reply, so he rephrased it, and asked.
“You want someone else to do it, presumably you are looking at the Government to do the bridge, the walkways and landscaping. Is this not part of your project? That is the question.”
“Is this part of your proposal or is it something that you would like to see happen later?” he added.
Mr Adams replied, “at this stage it is just the building.”
The Town Planner Paul Origo asked about the traffic plan they proposed.
“You are making changes to the traffic flow and use of the land. Have you met the traffic authorities personally and have they exchanged their views against the scheme? Because the feedback I got from them in the Traffic Commission is that you do not seem to have met,” said Mr Origo.
Mr Adams said “what we have tried to do is rationalise the site to offer back where we can at the road network, and we obviously also want to encourage the use of perhaps bicycle lanes and bus stops.”
He described the aim as one that would encourage public transport usage and would also bring wider roads to the area.
Mr Origo asked if they would accept that there were limitations as to what they could do with the land and that long vehicles had no turning circles in their submitted plans, according to the highway authorities.
“The road you are closing is a major artery for long vehicles into New Harbours and the rest of Gibraltar and the comment we got from them is that your turning circles do not work,” he said.
Ms Connery replied that they had tested the turning circles with 16 wheel vehicles and that they appreciated there would be a need for reconfiguration of a junction.
“We are not saying we are traffic consultants, we are looking to work with Mott McDonald to come up with the best scheme for that. Not only in terms of the turning circle, but in terms of the potential for a signal junction, and the access in and out from Montagu Gardens.”
“This is a work in progress,” she added.
Claire Montado from the Heritage Trust noted “there is no getting away from it, it is a tall building but also in context with Ocean Village and the area.”
Regarding the Linear Park vision, she said the Heritage Trust was not comfortable with a permanent bridge on the City Walls. She asked if they had looked at the tunnel that goes through the area into Fish Market Lane.
Mr Adams said they respect the City Walls dearly and that is why they had worked closely with Heritage on this aspect of the project.
“We would be more than happy to explore further the tunnels and the connections without having the bridge,” he said.
Janet Howitt, from the ESG, asked if they had met with the local people who had raised objections or concerns. She was told they had not as the issues were specific and each were answered individually. However, the developer is open to meeting up with concerned members of the public.
Mrs Howitt, also noted that Ocean Village had experienced a lot of challenges to increase footfall and “we have seen repeated a lot of businesses transfer to office space because it is very difficult to sustain that level of use and maintain your running cost.”
“While it sounds great, I am not sure it can be that effective,” she added.
The issue of the open spaces in the plaza requesting conservatories etc. due to the wind factor was also raised.
Nick Culato, who addressed the Commission representing the owner and leaseholder of the petrol station who had objected to the development “in the strongest possible way” also noted that the leaseholder had not been consulted on the development.
Mr Culato said the development contravened three points regarding the city walls as laid out in the Development Plan.
The petrol, as well as the café and garage, would need to be bought out by the developer, if one refused to move the project would be “gazumped”, Mr O’Rigo commented when asked what the situation was by Dr Cortes.
The other objector Chris Finch was representing Albert Parody, who is concerned that the removal of the garage would affect his business as he had been using the area for 60 years. He also noted that he would not be the only business affected by the development.
The character of Gibraltar would also be affected, he said. A issue that greatly concerns him.
Summing up his feelings he said, “if this was a can of beans I’d say it was only half baked.”
There was 13 letters of objection from the public and a petition from Montagu Gardens signed by 141 people. The main concerns noted were in relation to the height, scale, massing of the development, as well as loss of sunlight and privacy. Loss of an open space and increased traffic congestion were also a concern.
Town Planner report
The Town Planner said it has some “serious concerns regarding some part of the application” and recommended that the development proposals are restricted to the site boundaries with the northern boundary building line being pulled back to reduce the impact on the important vista of the Old Town from Waterport Road.
They want the developer to look at the scale of the building in relation to the scale of the city walls and gave Portland House as an example of how this can be achieved.
Reducing the massing of the Western façade will also need to be looked at and this can be done by a variety of ways including setbacks, cut outs or use of materials.
It asked them to reconsider the ground floor use of the North façade to help generate greater activity and therefore success for commercial units.
It said that the developer would need to work closely with the relevant authorities regarding the traffic flow and plan for the area.
It noted that carpark requirements need to be met and landscaping including green or brown roofs need to be considered.
The developer was also told that any parts that were not actually included in the plans should be omitted or clearly stated that this is the case.
It also noted that any revision of the submitted plans at they stand will be subject to public participation requirements.