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Govt and GSD clash over affordable homes

Archive Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

The GSD on Tuesday criticised the Gibraltar Government over its “failure to deliver” affordable housing estates following a tetchy exchange on the issue in Parliament last week.

GSD MP Damon Bossino had told Parliament that homes had first been promised in 2017 but that construction had yet to commence, adding the government’s original timelines were “way off the wall” and that purchasers faced “immense delay”.

“On the Opposition’s own reckoning, as matters stand, Bob Peliza Mews will, at best, not be completed until 2026,” the GSD said in a statement on Tuesday underscoring the message in Parliament.

“As for Chatham Views, again, at best we are looking at completion in late 2025.”

During the exchange in Parliament, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo had explained that the twin challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit meant it had not been possible to progress with the projects sooner, adding he had explained this in previously in Parliament and in meetings with concerned purchasers from both projects.

"Of course we wish we had been able to complete them sooner," he said.

"But it has just not been possible, and if it had been possible, we would not have failed to act sooner to deliver these homes."

"The people that I met had the assurance that I told them I was giving them a timeline that we would keep to, and keeping to it we are."

In Parliament last week, Mr Bossino said the pandemic "cannot be used as an excuse" because construction of the projects had been originally scheduled to start well before Covid-19.

On Tuesday, the GSD again underlined that point.

“For the Government to rely on COVID as a reason for the delay is simply disrespectful to those long-suffering applicants waiting to be delivered their new homes, especially when they have paid their deposits and are no doubt making additional financial provisions,” the party said in a statement.

“It also has to be pointed out that during the COVID lock-down the construction industry continued to generally function in a normal manner.”

“Accordingly, the Government should be reminded of their promise back in 2017 - two years before the last general election - when they said that ‘over 1600 homes for Gibraltarians will be made available from the summer of 2019’.”

“The summer of 2019 was almost a year before COVID and lock-down struck and it is now more than three years away and not one brick has as yet been laid in the Bob Peliza Mews or Chatham Views projects.”

“If the Government had met its original timescale then all three projects announced in 2017 would have been well under way by the 2019 election and ‘hundreds of homes’ would have been delivered by 2019 and well before COVID struck.”

The GSD statement on Tuesday drew an immediate response from the Government, which accused it of using the affordable homes for party politics.

No.6 said the GSLP/Liberals remained “wholly committed” to the completion of the two new affordable housing developments, despite “the undeniable impact of the pandemic” on public finances globally.

“It’s typical of the GSD and Damon Bossino to play politics with things that really matter in people's lives,” the Chief Minister said in a statement.

“The GSLP/Liberal Government is on the side of the purchasers and we are not interested in playing politics with the GSD on something as important as this to real people with a real need for these homes.”

“These homes are important for the purchasers. The Gibraltarian families that need these homes need them quickly and the Government knows that the delays that have arisen create real problems for real people.”

“If it were possible for the Government to accelerate the delivery of these homes in any possible way, we would have done so.”

“In fact, although Mr Bossino will do anything to get his name in print, he proposes nothing to assist in earlier delivery of these properties.”

“What is clear, however, is that neither he nor the GSD had any plans for more affordable homes at the last election.”

“So I would ask that Mr Bossino should be less eager to criticise for the sake of promoting himself and that he should contribute more constructively to our political debate by either advancing suggestions to improve matters or simply accept that we are doing everything possible to deliver as soon as possible to our purchasers, which is what we are politically committed to do.”

In its statement, the GSD also highlighted “a worrying lack of clarity and ‘play with words’” from the Chief Minister in response to a “very direct” question from Mr Bossino as to whether the Government currently had the required financing in place for these two developments.

Mr Picardo had replied at the time that “no delays are expected to arise as a result of financing” and that the GSD was engaging in “sterile political word games” by saying the answer was not clear.

For the Opposition party, however, the “saga” with the two housing estate was “an indictment” on the government.

“Prospective purchasers have been left enduring major delays,” the GSD said.

“People who first expressed interest in these homes may not even get these till 2026 – nine years later.”

“And that is on current estimates and on the basis that everything else runs smoothly from this point on.”

“However, given the Government’s track record it would be unlikely that they can be relied upon to deliver these houses nine years after they announced them.”

“Regrettably, for purchasers the Government’s new timescales – like their track record on these developments – have no credibility.”

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