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Government unveils new plan to ‘mitigate’ development

The Gibraltar Government yesterday unveiled a new development plan, outlining the decision to ‘freeze’ further works on selected government plots and create open spaces.

The document announced by Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia details the Governments ‘Four Point Plan to Mitigate Development’.

A new park at St Martin’s school, a freeze on development of the Bayside, St Anne’s, and Rooke form part of the new plan.

The four point plan concerns, a new development plan, renegotiation of existing projects, five new open areas and the freeze on development on six Government plots.

New open areas
The Government announced a total of five new open spaces for Rock residents to enjoy.

Some of them have already come to fruition such as the renovated Nuffield Pool now known as Europa Pool.

In addition, a park will be provided for on the existing site of St Martin’s School, with the several mature trees on the site being preserved.

While this site was originally put out to expressions of interest in 2017 the Government decided to create a new green space instead.

Another site to undergo development following an ‘expressions of interest process’ is that at by the old Rosia Officer’s Swimming Club.

The area is presently used by dog owners who will face restrictions when the area undergoes development.

“It is why we are providing as part of the overall long term planning a new dog park facility in the area of Europa Pool,” said Dr Garcia.

“I know my colleague Dr John Cortes is actively trying to identify other areas where we can also have a dog park.”

The Government has spoken to various developers over the years regarding this area of Rosia.

“Arriving at a conclusion of a process which has been put in chain now for a number of years we have made sure is that there will be provision for a public bay facility, a public pool, a restaurant, sea based activities for the younger generation and also a facility for the diving club which was a condition of the original tender,” said Dr Garcia.

A number of new open areas will also be created at the Northern Defences.

A combined open area between the King’s Lines and the Queen’s Lines of about 3500m2 and about half a kilometre of linear open walks.

“The objective is to blend a serious and important heritage site with public outdoor activity in certain parts of it,” said Dr Garcia.

“It is highly significant that these new open areas will be a short walk from Main Street.”

The aim is to use the tunnels and fortifications for both heritage purposed and outdoor activities such as zip-lining, war games and archery in its open zones.

As a new open space Dr Garcia also mentioned the park planned for the site between Mid-Town and Kings Bastion.

Freezing of development
The Government has taken the policy decision to freeze development in certain plots of Government land, namely the Queen’s Cinema, the Queen’s Hotel, Bayside School, St Anne’s School, the Rooke and the old Yacht Club sites.

“All of these were open to expressions of interest and what we have done is receive expressions from different developers and we have now frozen the process,” said Dr Garcia.

“It means those sites are not going to be developed. It does not mean they are not going to be developed at all. It means it is going to happen in a way that is phased and controlled and as some developments come to an end other ones will start, rather than have everything going on at the same time.”

He noted that due to the close proximity of both the Bayside and St Anne’s to each other there is a possibility that a development will encompass both, but this is not certain.

Regarding rumoured investors have been lined up for the Rooke, Dr Garcia said: “The Rooke came out for expressions of interest in 2015 and there was a very detailed expressions of interest process and we analysed the different ones that came in. There was a preferred bidder for the site with a preferred developer we announced that at the time it was London and Regional and we have had ongoing discussions with them.”

“But, developers are aware that this is the policy of the Government and these sites are not going to be developed until after other sites cease to be developed.”

“That way we can control development in a balanced and in a sensitive way to the people who live around the different sites.”

The development plan
A tender for a new development plan for Gibraltar will be issued within the coming weeks. Due to the nature of the plan the tender will be published both locally and in the official journal of the European Union as it needs to be an EU wide tender for as long as Gibraltar is in the EU.
The present plan came into effect in 2009.

The timeline for this new plan is unknown at present but Dr Garcia hopes that it would be in effect within the next 12 months.

Following the tender announcement being published the Government will have a clearer idea as to the length of time the process will take.

“We ideally would like it to happen as soon as possible,” said Dr Garcia.

“The normal guide in relation to development plans is that they should happen every ten years, there was one in 1991 and one in 2009 so it is ten years since the last one.”

Having the development plan published this year would be “too ambitious”, Dr Garcia added.

On the halting on any big developments, such as applications for Queensway and Devils Tongue, attaining approval until the new plan is published.

“Those developments are taking place under the existing scheme and laws and you cannot change that,” Dr Garcia said.

“But, I think people need to bear in mind the two are very different. The development on Queensway Quay was simply a developer on land that he owed going to seek the views of the Development and Planning Commission. The Government, the Commission and other entities have made it very clear what they think. Just because someone submits an application does not mean it is going to happen.”

He also noted that any plans the Government may have for Victoria Keys will be dealt under whichever Development Plan is in effect at the date of filing the application with the Town Planner.

“Going forward in terms of applications that are made and not yet approved by the Commission I think there will be more flexibility and power to control what happens,” said Dr Garcia.

“Controlling development on private sector land is more difficult than controlling development on Government land.”

Eastside project
Dr Garcia confirmed that the Government are continuing discussions in relation to the Eastside with a number of developers and investors.

“We are talking to different developers and investors and there may be a moment in time when an announcement is made as to what is happening there,” said Dr Garcia.

“But, that site and that plot has not been included in this [the four point development] process.”

Concrete jungle
When asked if these new announcements were a reaction to feelings of some residents that Gibraltar is becoming a concrete jungle, Dr Garcia replied that the government shares these concerns.

“I said it very clear we share those concerns and we want to see how we can best control the pace of construction and pace of development in Gibraltar,” Dr Garcia said.

“There are some controls that we have exercised already even in developments that have been commissioned before we came into office. We have taken the view now that there will be five open areas that we have announced. We have frozen the development of six sites.”

“But the reality is that the public interest is a balance between two factors. One is the pace of planning and development of construction and the other the need for developments if they are a public sector one.”

“Refurbishing and building new schools, constructing new sporting facilities, building a new primary care centre all these things also have a public interest and the role of Government is to balance the two.”