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Opposition highlights long wait in housing allocations, 10 years on

Some 10 years after the Government promised to wipe the housing list there are still people waiting, Shadow minister for Housing Edwin Reyes claimed in his budget speech.

He reminded the Government of their 2011 manifesto promises where “they pledged that everybody on the pre-list and housing list as at December 2011 would be given a home within a four-year period.”

Mr Reyes told Parliament it is “unacceptable that 10 years later there are still people waiting to be allocated a home – 10 years ago there was no Brexit or pandemic so, therefore, the electorate continues to be let down in this matter.”

He added there was “a need for social housing and it is the most vulnerable in Gibraltar who are suffering the worse.”

“The rental market from private landlords,” he said, “ is outside the reach of an average family, but when you hear the landlords’ side of the story it leads us to conclude that the present Housing Act is in urgent need of review - and this exercise should not penalise landlords when it comes to social housing for Gibraltarians.”

He added Affordable Homes purchasers “are young couples who are facing financial difficulties due to having to make monthly payments towards the purchase of their homes, which are still being built, whilst still paying rents of over £1,000 per month in many cases, until their new affordable homes are ready to be moved into. The next problem they will face in the future is the shortage in availability of Mortgage Lending Institutions as lenders will only give out loans to a certain percentage of homes within a project.”

Mr Reyes also raised the point that some 30 years ago when the affordable homes schemes were first introduced purchasers were still young and in receipt of average salaries.

“However, 30 years later they have now become pensioners and subsequently have less of a monthly income from their pension fund.”

Mr Reyes pointed out that “despite having paid off their mortgages these pensioners are still required to pay community charges which on a monthly basis are higher than the average rent for a government flat.”

Highlighting too that this same purchasers were not now eligible to apply for a home which has been purposely built for and caters for the needs of senior citizens because they were homebuyers.

“In recent difficult times such as the lockdown suffered due to the Covid-19 pandemic our senior citizens residing in senior citizen’s homes enjoyed great support and assistance from the relevant official departments. However, those senior citizens who for years went through the financial expenses of purchasing their own homes found themselves abandoned, so to say, simply because they are residing in a non-Government owned home.”

“I think the time is now to put our thinking caps on and look into possible provisions for senior citizens to be able to move into purpose-built homes commensurate with their present needs.”

Sports

Mr Reyes called out Spain’s refusal to allow Gibraltar to be accepted onto international sports in his budget speech.

“The antics and shameful actions taken by our neighbours to the north are wearing even thinner as each year flies past and I hope that, slowly but surely, international sports governing bodies will judge Gibraltar’s membership applications on their own merit and not shamefully allow themselves to be coerced by our neighbour’s unjustified and often unscrupulous arguments,” he said.

Referring to the proposed plans for the refurbishment of the Victoria Stadium Mr Reyes suggested that the use of the venue as the home of football and its use proved that the GSD had “not been wrong from the outset in choosing the Victoria Stadium as the best site for an UEFA and FIFA fully approved facility.”

As he highlighted the achievements of local clubs within European football competitions he also warned that “there is still a great need for further training facilities if our future generations are to aspire to improving their overall standards.”

Highlighting how clubs were training in Spain he suggested that more facilities were needed and these should be extended to other sports to cater for the increasing number of participants.

As he referred to the delays in the completion of new sports facilities he claimed that “the sporting fraternity” had expressed their personal opinions “that alongside the unfortunate Covid-19 Pandemic there is certain element of managerial inefficiency and bad workmanship contributing to the now two years delay in what was hailed as a sporting showcase of facilities.”

Calling the delays caused to sports such as Cricket as “totally unacceptable” he said he looked “forward to the answer and explanations of why this facility is still not available.”

Mr Reyes also urged the Minister for Sports, that he should in his capacity as Chairman of the Sports and Leisure Authority, take a particular interest and appropriate action to ensure that publicly owned facilities are used in a fair manner for the benefit of all sports lovers.

Highlighting that there were “unresolved disputes pending for a few years” and “new” ones which could not be “ignored” he urged for the Minister set up “a special independent body tasked with matters pertaining to, and requiring possible arbitration, in relation to local sports issues” where associations would require to be accountable for their decisions, including disciplinary actions and sanctions.

Whilst welcoming achievements with the summer sports programme, including the Stay and Play he said that “the time has now come for a further review of programmes being offered and seriously consider the introduction of bespoke activities for those youngsters who have special needs which neither fit into the mainstream or the Stay and Play facilities.”

Culture

Turning to his other portfolios, Mr Reyes questioned the decision relating to the development of a National Theatre.

He said the Government had purchased both the Queen’s Cinema and Queen’s Hotel sites for the development of a theatre and related activities.

“It is now public knowledge that the Queen’s National Theatre will not see the light of day and instead a new project has been announced which will see an enlarged theatre created within the John Mackintosh Hall.”

Also highlighting that this year’s estimates show a token provision of £1,000 under the Improvement and Development Fund Expenditure set aside under heading of ‘Theatre’.

He questioned how the changes in capacity, which would see an increase in seating capacity at the John Mackintosh Hall, would affect traditional users which he claimed will not necessarily cater for ever increasing demands of theatre facilities.

“The new larger Theatre might be good news for some, but it has also resulted in sad news for others like local educational schools and dance groups for whom the size was just right.”

“Local performers may often be heard to say that if we can afford £5,850,00 million for a two-day Mega Concert, plus £62,000 for a Jazz Festival with an additional £80,000 in respect of a World Music Festival, then surely our local performers, entertainers and audiences are entitled to ask for a theatre which is fit for purpose and available throughout for 365 days a year without them having to raise the funds themselves.”

Education

Mr Reyes recommended that the Minister for Education “listen and continue to work as closely as possible with classroom teachers – albeit alongside his senior management teams.”

He also called on considerations to be given to current trends in respect of developments in schools’ curriculums and modern apprenticeships.

Stating that pupils who do not wish to pursue an academic future need to be provided with the opportunity of a modern apprenticeship programmes.

Suggesting that they needed to create “a gold standard for an apprenticeship programme so that employers have confidence in the system.”

“The time for investment is now – not just in formal academic education heading towards entry into higher education, but also in the co-ordination of training and skills through vocational courses that carry international accreditation,” Mr Reyes said.

“We must not forget the ultimate aim of providing education for our future generations: it is our duty to ensure all pupils always achieve their maximum potential’.

Mr Reyes also called for a review of the school leaving age.

“For a pupil to leave schooling in Gibraltar at age 15 and not embark upon an approved training programme is certainly not an investment in respect of the future employability prospects of that youngster,” he said.

“We are now in the third decade of the 21st century and decisive action is therefore long overdue.”

Mr Reyes also asked that a “sensible and workable traffic plan for the drop off and collection of pupils” be reviewed during the summer recess months.

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