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Slow change 'will break cycle of decay' on Road to the Lines

Plans to regenerate Road to the Lines by inviting bids for individual properties instead of redeveloping the site will “break the cycle of dilapidation and decay”, albeit slowly, the Gibraltar Government said.

The hope to find a developer who would engage in a wholesale regeneration of the site fell through after “many months of protracted negotiations”.

“Sadly, the idea that the Government could take on the project for itself has never been a realistic proposition,” No.6 Convent Place said.

“Indeed, it is significant to note that over many decades this has not been a viable option for any previous administration either.”

No.6 said the objective now was to proceed on the basis of tendering individual buildings.

In time, this “will break the cycle of dilapidation and decay.”

“This has worked well in other parts of the Upper Town,” No.6 said.

“The Government would agree that the pace of change will be slow, but the prize at the end of the journey will be well worth it.”

Road to the Lines is a pedestrianised stretch of the Upper Town above Casemates and has difficult access, making development of the area complex.

According to No.6, there are very few units at Road to the Lines which are part of the government’s housing stock given that most were already deemed to be beyond economical repair years ago and passed on for public tender.

The policy has been to decant housing tenants away from the area as opposed to move new ones in.

No.6 added too that tenders for single dwellings over the years have not attracted large developers.

“On the contrary, the successful applicants have largely consisted of families or individuals who have taken on the property sometimes as a self-repairing project,” it said.

“The release of Government rented accommodation and the presence of the applicant on the housing waiting list, while not the only determining factors, will continue to be taken into account.”

“The geographical layout and the composition of the buildings in Road to the Lines means that some are simply not suited to being subdivided into separate flats for sale or for rental.”

“It nonetheless cannot be ruled out that some of these homes may indeed be rented out instead of sold by their prospective purchasers.”

The Government said it had led by example in the regeneration of the Upper Town, highlighting “flagship projects” like the refurbishment of the old Police Barracks, the establishment of two schools in the old St Bernard’s Hospital and the refurbishment of many of the Government’s own properties in different areas.

In addition to this, successful tenderers have themselves beautifully restored and refurbished many different properties all over the Upper Town.

“There is still plenty of work to be done on urban renewal, not least because some buildings are owned by private landlords,” No.6 said.

“The overriding consideration is to get this process under way and to add new life to a gradually restored townscape.”

‘HOLISTIC URBAN REGENERATION’

The Gibraltar Heritage Trust said the only way to efficiently renovate the Road to the Lines is to tackle the site holistically through a programmed plan mixing public and private investment.

The Trust was reacting after the Gibraltar Government said it would invite bids for individual properties in the site, after a plan for wholesale development fell through because no suitable bids were received.

The Trust said it had encouraged the urban renewal of the site for over a decade but that none of the plans proposed in that time had come to fruition.

“The reasons for this are multiple due to the complexity of area - access, outdated infrastructure, existing residents - and similarly there will be no single formula for a solution,” the Trust said.

“The Trust believes that the only way to efficiently renovate this area is to tackle the site holistically and within a programmed plan which encourages both private and public investment.”

The Trust has in the past advocated that this area, and others within the old town, be renewed using a model which has been successfully undertaken locally in the past in regenerating dilapidated areas of real estate such as Calpe Barracks and 14 Flat Bastion Road.

In both these historic properties, the Government acted as the develop and put the houses out for sale to first time homeowners at near to cost price.

“The result was the access of young people and families to the property ladder and the provision of fantastic family homes,” the Trust said.

“Additionally, the projects not only safeguarded these historic buildings, but also the investments in quality properties have retained their value both within the community and economically.”

The Trust said regeneration of many parts of Gibraltar’s old town required both the refurbishment of the fabric of the buildings and the upgrading and modernisation of the infrastructure that serves them.

“The benefits of investment in infrastructure is not immediately obvious but has many positives. One need look no further than the regeneration of Castle Street, Calle Comedia, as an example,” it said.

“The beautification of this section at the heart of the old town has led to an investment by private landlords in their buildings, upgrading of rental units, refurbishment of façades, beautification of the streetscape, opening of boutique businesses and the cropping up of destination street art.”

“The natural extension of this project is towards Road to the Lines and the major historic and unique tourist attraction of the Northern Defences which are being steadily brought back from dereliction.”

“If seasoned developers cannot make the numbers work for them in making the holistic regeneration of Road to the Lines worth their while, what chance do less experienced owner/occupiers have?”

“Tender conditions clearly place responsibility for removal of asbestos, connections to services, protection of occupied properties in the area, firmly in the hands of the tenderer.”

“A timeline for release and allocation of properties would also help manage the risks and conflicting requirements of multiple owners at various stages of property renovation.”

“An unfinished property next door can be a source of water penetration to an adjoining property. Will there be support for individuals aiming to restore a property in all good faith? An inexperienced owner in a complex site can lead to financial ruin.”

“A longer-term vision and Area Plan for the district is well overdue with a view to beautification of the streetscape, paving, streetlighting and furniture that will help transform Road to the Lines into the area we know it has the potential to be.”

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