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Opposition parties and Govt clash over Midtown Park lawn

Johnny Bugeja

Together Gibraltar has called on the Government to provide “full disclosure” on Mid Town Park after a lawn was removed this week to allow for more works.

The party said this patch of grass was “rushed through in time for the last election, dug up and discarded”.

Last night, the GSD added its voice too and said the tearing up of the lawn “demonstrates ill-thought-out planning and a waste of public money by the Government”, describing it as an “election gimmick.”

But the Government of Gibraltar said the lawn had been laid to prevent dust being whipped up in an area of park that had been completed ahead of other sections, adding the grass would be used in the Alameda Estate.

It added that work on the park had been disrupted by the Covid-19 lockdown but was due for completion in December.

The exchange was initiated by TG and was the party’s latest clash with the Gibraltar Government on environmental matters, coming after an earlier row over trees on the site of the old Casino.

In a statement, TG had criticised the Government for what it described as mismanaged and costly pre-election projects.

“TG believes that government must put an end to these pernicious practices once and for all, for the benefit of our environment, our quality of life, and the health of our public finances,” the party said.

“The party also demands full disclosure of the costs of the works carried out in the Mid Town park area, both now and before the 2019 election.”

“The people of Gibraltar will not be fooled again by this damaging and self-serving behaviour.”

It said this is “yet another example of incompetent management and another ill-thought-out, supposed environmental measure, that results in a net negative impact on our air quality and environment”.

“This also happened with the Line Wall road pedestrianisation (which created polluting traffic gridlocks in other roads), or the recent uprooting of valuable, fully grown trees at the old casino site,” the spokesman added.

“This is also reflective of another pernicious trend carried out by administrations of both colours in the past; the practice of completing flashy works and unfulfilled manifesto promises a few months before the election, rushing these projects through at great cost to the taxpayer - and often with shoddy results that have to be corrected (at even more cost to the taxpayer) soon after the election is over.”

Echoing those concerns, the GSD said the lawn had been laid “at lightning speed” in the run-up to last year’s general election.

It noted that the GSLP/Liberals had announced the completion of the park in their manifesto and flagged the return of ‘Movies in the Park’.”

“Whilst everyone understands that we cannot gather in public spaces, the public, at the very least, expected the Midtown Park should have been opened by now,” the GSD said.

“The rushed job at Midtown Park was an election gimmick and some 12 months later it now looks like a construction site once again with serious concerns raised by the public about the Government throwing money down the drain.”

Shadow Minister for the Environment, Elliott Phillips, added: “The Government cannot seem to get to grip with the run of the mill domestic issues of the day.”

“The Government continue to throw good money after bad.”

“It has been one week since the Line Wall Road debacle and yet another failed project is laid bare for all to see.”

“The Government is showing an absolute disregard for the spending of public money and worse still they don’t seem to be bothered about offering an explanation as to why they laid the lawn in the first place given that further works were required on site.”

“Gibraltar deserves better than the shoddy workmanship of the GSLP Liberal administration of our community."

But in a response issued before the GSD intervened in the exchange – but which also addressed its concerns - the Government hit back at what it described as Together Gibraltar’s “misguided comments” over the park.

“The relocation of the turf on the northern half of the project is not due to incompetent management but simply because this area was completed ahead of the remainder of the park back in 2019,” a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place said.

“Therefore, leaving this large area with no planting would lead to problems with weeds as well as dust from soil being whipped up by the wind.”

“It was considered better to plant an interim turf in the area which would then be utilised to beautify areas of Alameda Estate which had been identified.”

“The lawn laid last year being re-used cost £6,312, the new, hardier lawn costs £9,064.”

“The comments by Together Gibraltar are also out of touch with reality as if they did not realise that Covid-19 lockdowns have caused disruption to the construction progress.”

“As a result of lockdowns, the industry has taken a number of weeks to fully reactivate ultimately affecting supply chains.”

The completion of Mid Town Park is directly linked to the seasonal tree and turf planting window, the Government added.

The trees and the turf were originally programmed to have been planted in March 2020 but the Covid-19 lockdowns meant that this was not possible. “Trees were sourced from France and the turf from the UK,” the spokesman said.

“The full lockdowns in these countries as well as in Gibraltar meant that it was not possible to have the trees or the turf delivered, nor allow the specialist teams to travel.”

The Minister for the Environment, Dr John Cortes, said: “Although there has been a delay in the completion of the Mid Town Park, I am pleased to announce the site is due to be ready by mid-December.”

“Progress is ongoing and just today over 40 trees for the site have arrived.”

“I regret Together Gibraltar’s comments because once the Park is finished the community will be able to see and enjoy for themselves a new and accessible facility in the centre of Gibraltar.”