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GSD calls for Queen’s cinema to be preserved

Pic: Johnny Bugeja

The GSD has vowed to preserve the Queen’s cinema and use it for arts and culture should it be elected to Government at the forthcoming general election, in a move that has been labelled by the Gibraltar Government as causing ‘political mischief’.
The Opposition called on the Government to halt the prospective demolition as it levied criticism over plans to demolish the Queen’s Cinema and use the site for temporary parking.
The decision to demolish, to provide only 23 temporary parking spaces would see the demolition of a historic façade for little planning gain, the GSD said in a statement.
In reply the Gibraltar Government yesterday released a statement insisting the GSD had shown “no interest in the site until now” and the cinema does “not have any heritage value”.
The Government added that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and it intends to build a national theatre at the John Mackintosh Hall.
“In fact, the Government has only just announced a temporary freeze on development on this site, which it had previously earmarked for a theatre,” the GSD said.
“This means that sooner or later they will likely allow commercial development on the site.”
“Those decisions followed quickly after the announcement by the GSLP Government that it was abandoning the Queen’s Cinema site as the location of the National Theatre that it announced to great fanfare before the last election.”
The GSD said this was another “broken promise” of the GSLP administration adding that it was obvious that the site would potentially be identified for commercial and mixed use development in the future.
“People are just not being told when and who would be the preferred developer who may be in negotiations with Government,” it added.
The GSD highlighted how in May 2013 and to “great fanfare” the Government announced it had bought the Queen’s Cinema site for £3.5 million.
“It declared then that it would convert this into a National Theatre and that this work was going to be led by a team of “local specialists set up by the Chief Minister who will chair it.”
“At the time Mr Picardo was quoted as saying that this was proof that “the change people voted for is starting to bear fruit.” Gibraltar was promised that the new Theatre would be open for “its first performance and inauguration in 2015.”
In reply the government said the entire site, including the Queen’s Hotel, went out to Expressions of Interest in October 2017 in order to allow interested parties to put forward their ideas.
“There were five entities who submitted a response,” the Government said.
“No entity has been selected.”
“The advert said at the time that the final scheme would need to incorporate a number of mixed- uses. This included sheltered accommodation for the elderly and car parking as well as commercial and residential units. A hotel was also mentioned. The advert also made reference to a theatre and GBC. These two are clearly no longer necessary.”
The Government added they have decided to “hold back” on development of this site and will provide a temporary car park in the meantime.
“In June 2014 the Government were reported to have purchased the remaining lease on the Queen’s Hotel for an undisclosed sum,” the GSD said adding that the expense to the taxpayer on both acquisitions has been in the millions of pounds.
“Even though they had failed to lay one brick towards the promised National Theatre by 2015 the GSLP repeated the commitment in its 2015 manifesto,” the Opposition said explaining that by 2017 it was “unceremoniously repositioning” itself to ditch the Theatre proposal.
The GSD added that the Government said in October 2017 that it had been approached by developers on an “unsolicited basis” to develop the Queen’s Cinema and Queen’s Hotel sites.
By October 2017 it was inviting expressions of interest for a mixed use scheme.
“Their latest announcement that it was formally abandoning the manifesto commitment it had made was long in the making but clear for all to see,” the GSD said.
“In doing do it will destroy a historic façade all for 23 temporary spaces, and then to eventually allow mixed use development. That history will not be able to be recovered once lost.”
The Government replied that the Opposition need to understand that Gibraltar’s land assets are “very limited”.
“It makes more sense to house the theatre elsewhere and use this plot in the future a different way for the benefit of the people of Gibraltar,” the Government said.
“It is obvious that the development of the site at that point in the future will provide considerable public gains.”
GSD Leader Keith Azopardi said if his party is elected he will ensure the site will be used as a cultural venue.
“I can confirm that if we are elected to Government at the next elections, we will make sure that the Queen’s Cinema site, that has long been used as a cultural venue for this community, is saved for arts and culture,” Mr Azopardi said.
“We will retain the historic façade of the Queen’s Cinema and refurbish the building so that it can continue to be used for cultural purposes and can host musical events, theatre, conference centre and multi-use facilities for the Arts.”
“We will not allow commercial development on the Queen’s Cinema site.”
“At the next election people need to be clear about what the options of different parties are for this site. This announcement today sets out our clear intentions on the site. All the Government have announced so far is the negative policy of demolition for a few parking spaces and a temporary freeze on development.”
“We will protect our heritage and culture. In Government this will be systematic and inform all our policies to ensure a more sustainable approach to our environment.”
“We are potentially weeks away from an election. As such the present Government should not proceed with any demolition at the Queen’s Cinema site until people have chosen who should form the next Government.”