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Heritage sites plagued by ‘general disinterest and apathy’, GSD says

Gorham’s Cave Complex World Heritage Site.

The GSD said more must be done to “sensitively showcase” heritage sites around the Rock, accusing the Gibraltar Government of “general disinterest and apathy” in promoting a valuable resource for attracting visitors.

In a statement last night ahead of World Heritage Day today, the GSD said it was “perplexing” that heritage sites received “so little exposure”.

By way of example, it highlighted a number of sites including Parson’s Lodge, the Moorish Castle, the Gorham’s Cave Complex World Heritage Site, Stay Behind Cave, the WWII tunnels, the Northern Defences and O’Hara’s Battery.

The party cited government data on visitor statistics to argue that the sites were “not properly forming part” of the visitor experience.

Visits to Gorham’s complex are restricted to about 120 a year because of the sensitive nature of the site and in line with UNESCO guidance, with only organised visits on request allowed.

But visitor numbers for the viewing platform above the cave complex are also lacklustre, with opening times at the facility limited to 10am to 2pm on weekdays only.

That is “disincentivising” visits, the GSD said, adding tour operators are not including the platform on their itineraries.

“The closure of the platform on weekends and public holidays, when we would expect the largest influx of visitors, is not conducive to giving the site proper exposure,” the GSD said.

The Opposition party also said Parson’s Lodge visitor numbers were “very poor”, averaging about 120 visitors per year over the last seven years since access commenced.

The GSD said it had received reports that the site was “generally untidy” and required “clearing and refurbishment”.

The party had also received similar reports about Moorish Castle “which lies abandoned”, while Stay Behind Cave, the WWII tunnels and O’Hara’s Battery were inaccessible to visitors.

“This is deplorable,” said GSD MP Damon Bossino.

“All of this, when coupled with the general tatty and neglected state of other sites, entry points and Gibraltar as a whole, as we have been raising for some time now shines a light on the Government’s general disinterest and apathy.”

“The GSD is committed to change this, even given the strains on our public finances.”

“With an eye on the significant price tag attached to some of these assets, the GSD in Government would ensure that all these sites are sensitively and much more effectively exploited in time for World Heritage Day 2024.”

In its statement, the GSD noted that the management of the Gibraltar National Museum, the Gorham’s World Heritage Site, Parson’s Lodge, Stay Behind Cave and the Moorish Castle were part of services contracted to Knightsfield Holdings Limited at a cost of around £1.2m annually to the public purse.

That figure, and the issues raised in the statement, had already been the subject of an exchange in Parliament last March during which Dr John Cortes, the Minister for Heritage, acknowledged that the number of visitors to the Gorham’s viewing platform – 733 last year – “could be higher [and] we want it to be higher”.

He said that while visits to the platform were encouraged, “tour operators may or may not wish to stop there and take their clients there”.

Dr Cortes said too that Parson’s Lodge was primarily used now as a support establishment for research work in the Gorham’s Cave complex, but that even when it was fully open to the public in the past, “it was not economically viable [because] the footfall wasn't there”.

Dr Cortes also told Parliament that much of budget highlighted by the GSD “… goes to the tremendous work that the Gibraltar National Museum is doing at the forefront of research, for example, on Neanderthals, where we probably have the world's greatest experts here, who are responsible for promoting Gibraltar and the richness of our prehistory around the world, [and] who regularly hold internationally acclaimed conferences every year and who hold a magnificent collection on behalf of the people of Gibraltar.”

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