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GSD questions traffic restriction plans, prompting Govt despair over ‘unambitious’ response

Alice Mascarenhas

The Gibraltar Government and the GSD were at odds on Wednesday on government plans to restrict traffic on certain key roads in a bid to capitalise on lockdown measures and edge Gibraltar into a greener future after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The GSD questioned the need for such through pilot proposals to restrict traffic on Line Wall Road and Chatham Counterguard as from June 1, calling for “proper consultation and sufficient groundwork” before the plans were implemented.

The Opposition also opposed plans to restrict traffic too on Europort Avenue, questioning the logic and suggesting it would increase congestion on Queensway even before the impact of plans for the other two roads was properly understood.

But No.6 Convent Place said it was “confounded” by the GSD’s reaction, which it said displayed a “lack of acknowledgment and ignorance” of the underlying goals and failed to reflect that the party, according to the Government, had been consulted on the plans and supported them.

The exchange, the first significant crack in the united front displayed to date by the Government and Opposition in addressing the impact of Covid-19 and preparing Gibraltar for a post-pandemic future, came after the road plans were signalled by the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, earlier this week.

While the GSD has not opposed the plans outright, it has urged the Government to slow down their implementation, a position that No.6 Convent Place said was “unambitious.”

The traffic proposals form part of the “Unlock the Rock” strategy that the Government hopes to announce in detail, perhaps as early as today.

It draws on proposals first tabled by Together Gibraltar in its manifesto at the last election, with TG Leader Marlene Hassan Nahon to be invited to share her party’s ideas as the measures are put into practice.

The proposals have been welcomed by environmental groups and many citizens concerned about air pollution and noise, but has also drawn flak from others worried about the effect on traffic flow.

The Government said the pilot schemes will form part of a plan to give open spaces back to people by reducing unnecessary traffic, creating “new realms of enjoyment” for pedestrians and their families and commuting and leisure cyclists alike.

But the GSD said the move was premature.

“We are a small and densely populated community with complex traffic issues ultimately defined by our limited geography,” the GSD said in a statement.

“We would all like to move away from the use of cars and a cleaner and greener Gibraltar but with many tens of thousands of registered vehicles this must be done with the fullest of consultation and in a sustainable way.”

The GSD said any plan to restrict normal vehicular traffic in Line Wall Road and Chatham Counterguard should only be implemented after sufficient consultation with affected parties, residents and the business sector to ensure its workings will be smooth.

Additionally, modelling of actual and anticipated consequential traffic flows must be considered to ensure best traffic management, while a system of permits for people who exceptionally have accessibility needs or residents would also need to be devised.

“All that means that it is far too hasty to put this scheme in place by 1 June 2020 as announced by Government,” the Opposition added.
“A period of planning and consultation should be carried out before any attempt at implementation to make sure everything is ready to make it work.”

“Nor is it necessary to implement that scheme by 1 June given that the majority of Chatham Counterguard businesses are effectively closed and Line Wall Road is quiet.”

“The lockdown gives the Government time to plan the implementation of the measures and consult widely without pressure of immediate congestion happening anytime soon.”

“Any such scheme should also be considered a pilot project and be reviewed after a period to see if it works or not.”

"Plans should also include an effective park and ride scheme which considers making it mandatory for foreign registered vehicles to park outside the town area so that it does not lead to congestion of Queensway which would become the main thoroughfare if Line Wall Road is subject to restrictions.”

The GSD said it would welcome initiatives to “unclutter” the city walls and encourage walking and cycling, adding that such work should be devised to ensure this can happen more effectively.

But the Government said the GSD had failed to acknowledge that the Government itself had described the proposals as a pilot scheme and announced plans for a “full and detailed” consultation with stakeholders and the public.

The Leader of the GSD will also be invited to share his party’s ideas as part of this consultation, No.6 said.

“Everyone is clear that we have to take the good out of the paralysis the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on Gibraltar and the world,” said Vijay Daryanani, the Minister for Transport.

“One of the few advantages is the reduction in pollution. We have to be ready to make the most of that.”

“So as we restart and recover, we must do so in a way that preserves the good. If we go back to our old ways, with huge traffic flows through Line Wall etc, we will be back to square one.”

“So we will consult and we will improve. But we will also be bold and we will be the ones leading on this initiative that years from now our opponents will say was long overdue.”

“We have agreed the closure of Line Wall Road and Chatham Counterguard in principle with Mr Azopardi. We already have plans I explained for a park and ride.”

“So I think the GSD’s statement is unfair but what is worse, I think it is unambitious and fails to see that we have to act now and not kick these issues back into the long grass where they have been for too long.”

“It is right for us to act. We cannot make this omelette without breaking eggs and we have the courage to do so and be judged on our actions. This shows our real commitment to reduce pollution and reduce car use.”

“The position of the GSD suggests that they are much less pro-active in their approach to the protection of the environment going forward as they have been in the past.”

“For us in the GSLP / Liberal Government, this is a great opportunity to take a huge step forward to deliver another limb in our Green Gibraltar initiative, bringing us closer to being a Child Friendly City.”