DPC grapples with height challenge within city walls
The Development and Planning Commission has approved another building within the city walls that goes beyond height guidelines set out in the Development Plan 2009.
The decision, the latest in a string of similar approvals, highlights the challenges faced by planners who have to balance heritage goals against commercial realities.
The DPC is faced with a difficult dilemma.
On the one hand, officials need to protect the architectural features and topography which define Gibraltar’s old town and give it its charm.
Against this, they must balance the needs of landlords and investors who want to redevelop properties in the area but must ensure these are economically viable.
The Development Plan 2009 states that new developments within the city walls should be of a similar scale to existing buildings, and certainly no higher than a total of five floors, including the ground floor.
Sometimes though, planners insist they have to be flexible, otherwise projects simply would not go ahead.
The Development Plan sets out the DPC’s planning policies and acts as guidance, but it is not law.
“Development plans are supposed to provide a long term vision and a framework for decision making,” a government spokesman told the Chronicle.
Traditionally, buildings within the city walls are three or four storeys high, with some being extended by one additional floor.
The Development Plan allows for exceptions to this in the case of civic buildings and some more modern developments.
Planning permission for buildings taller than five storeys within the city walls will only be permitted in exceptional cases and will require a design statement justifying why.
When an applicant files for approval for a building taller than the norm, factors including location and context, visual impact, quality of design and contribution to the character and appearance of the old town are all carefully scrutinised.
In recent years, at least three new projects have been granted permission to go beyond the height guidelines set out in the Development Plan.
At last week’s meeting of the DPC, another project for a development at 22-24 Town Range was also cleared.
The project comprises of two buildings with a small passageway in-between.
The existing building on Town Range itself is presently four storeys tall and in a poor state of repair.
The building behind it is two storeys high and in a decrepit state.
The surrounding buildings range between two and five storeys high, with the nearby O’Callaghan Elliott Hotel coming in at 10 storeys tall and Leanse Place, which is also in the vicinity, seven storeys tall, according to the design statement.
The applicant originally sought permission to construct an eight storey building but, upon the advice of the DPC before the application was heard, reduced that by one storey.
However, during last week’s meeting, approval was only granted on the basis that the applicant reduced the building’s height by another floor, leaving it six storeys high, just one storey higher than Development Plan guidance.
During the same meeting, a separate application for 28A-34 Turnbull’s Lane was also discussed, with similar issues arising.
The owner is seeking permission to create a six storey building to provide 32 bedsits and commercial space.
The application was deferred to give the owner time to produce a detailed design statement stating why they want the height of the building to be greater than the height of five floors provided for within the Development Plan.
It was noted during the meeting that the building directly opposite was higher than the planned development, although the adjacent building is lower.