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DPC application highlights challenge of attracting businesses to Upper Town

The ongoing regeneration of the Upper Town was brought into sharp relief yesterday as the old Police Barracks was formally inaugurated, now fully refurbished into luxury flats called The Arches. The project retains the distinctive arches and colonnades of a building that was once home to Gibraltar’s police officers and their families. pic by Johnny Bugeja

A full planning application for the proposed conversion of an existing shop unit into part residential and part café at the Arches, on Castle Road, has been filed with the Town Planner.

In November last year the Development and Planning Commission refused permission to convert the vacant retail unit into two apartments.

The applicant said at the time that it had no luck in attracting any potential businesses to the unit but the Commission said it should broaden its search for potential businesses for the retail unit or reduce the cost to make it more attractive.

But in filing the new application, the applicant also presented a report which it believes demonstrates that it has done a lot to try and attract businesses to the site.

The Arches, the residential development built on the old Police Barracks, has been widely praised for retaining key heritage features of a building that, in the past, played an important role in community life.

But the report including in the new planning application highlights the challenges faced by developers working to breathe life into the Upper Town.

Two local estate agents, Savills and BFA, reported that various businesses were contacted and for a variety of reasons were not interested in the unit.

Savills stated that the unit was in the wrong location with a low footfall, lacked parking and was difficult to access by foot.

It also had a complicated internal layout as it consisted of several rooms and was large for the town area. In addition, there was a lack of other businesses in the area to help build a critical mass.

BFA echoed that opinion in its report.

Both estate agents recommended that part of the unit be used as a small kiosk and that the remaining, larger area be converted into a residential property.

They also noted that even a small kiosk might struggle in that area.

The agents also approached a number of businesses about the site and their views, while varied, were negative.

One business said it was “too far away from the general public”, while another said it would not consider it as the site was “a little too isolated”.

Others observed that the footfall in the area would not be high enough to justify the investment.

Both estate agents approached 50 clients and only 20 expressed interest in seeing the unit.

The new application has yet to be discussed by the DPC.

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