Trust calls on Govt to suspend its plans for a new car park facility at Grand Parade
The Gibraltar Heritage Trust has criticised the manner in which the Government announced plans for a new car park facility in Grand Parade as well as the project itself, drawing immediate flak from the Government. The Trust calls on Government to suspend the further progression of “this above ground scheme” in the meantime and look to other options.”
The reaction from the Trust comes after the Government last week unveiled plans for a 900-space car park in Grand Parade, which the Heritage Trust said shows a “total disregard” for the historical value of the site and the meaning it has to different sectors of our community.
According to the GHT the scheme as proposed will “obliterate” a large open space which has heritage significance as a parade ground and site of military and community focus and activities as well as its importance in the setting of the Gibraltar Botanical Gardens- an important green area and amenity for Gibraltar.
Additionally, the Trust advised that the area was used as a burial ground well into the 18th Century so any development of the site would therefore need to factor in an archaeological excavation.
The GHT statement said the Trust was frustrated at what it term as “the inconsistencies where consultation is forthcoming and in the spirit of constructive criticism with the Government in some cases being robust in its defence of heritage principles, such as the MOD Gatehouse, and then in other instances rides roughshod over its own rules - Ince’s Hall street art - and procedures”.
“We hope that we will be proved wrong and proper procedures and sense will prevail in this case.”
The Trust further flagged how Grand Parade was proposed for listing within the schedules of the forthcoming Heritage Act, “a document which we are constantly told will be published ‘imminently’”.
In response the Government said it deeply regrets the tone of the statement issued by the Heritage Trust regarding the new development.
“It goes without saying that the Trust is free to take whatever position it wishes on this and on any issue,” the Government said in a statement.
No. 6 Convent Place added that the Trust have given the “unfortunate impression” that in recent times they are quicker off the mark to be critical of the Government than they are to acknowledge positive progress.
“There is clearly a need to maintain a right and proper balance between the two positions.”
The Government also claimed that it is not the first Government to propose the creation of more car parking spaces at Grand Parade.
“This is a policy in common between different administrations,” it said.
“The reason for this is that a Government has to balance conservation and development and sometimes the scales will tilt towards one side and on other occasions the balance will tilt to the other.”
The Trust added that it is not opposed to the provision of more parking in this area and that there will be significant public support for the provision of such.
But, it said, such large-scale schemes should come about as a result of wide scale consultation and with reference to a holistic planning scheme.
This scheme in particular has not been alluded to in any manifesto nor more importantly in the recently launched Sustainable Transport and Traffic Plan, the GHT said.
“Neither has there been any consultation of the Trust as a Statutory Consultee to the DPC prior to the announcement of the scheme.”
The Trust said the announcement of this scheme in this way shows a “total disregard” for the historical value of the site and the meaning it has to different sectors of the community.
“Why can’t the car park and proposed units be built below ground – subject to Environmental Impact Assessment findings and recommendations – and the open space be retained, landscaped, improved and kept as an open area?”
“Whilst the Trust sees the case for parking provision in this part of Gibraltar, it remains shocked at the manner with which the scheme was launched leading with the line that ‘the number of parking spaces at Grand Parade are set to double’.”
In doing so the Trust believes that the Government is “devaluing” the Planning System and processes it has worked so hard to bring to the public attention and the input of the professionals, NGOs and community members who work to improve standards and feed into the system on a daily basis.
As it hit back at the Heritage Trust the Government said the tone of their statement is “particularly unfair” citing how it has “invested hugely in heritage projects all over Gibraltar”.
“This includes the refurbishment and beautification of Wellington Front, the continuing progress at the Northern Defence, which were abandoned and neglected for years on end, the restoration and relocation of the MOD gatehouse, and other heritage-sensitive projects elsewhere.”
“This will continue,” No. 6 said.
“However, what the Trust cannot pretend is that the whole of Gibraltar should come to a standstill and that this balance should always be tilted in their favour.”
The Government said it was unfortunate that the language used in the statement issued by the Trust has not been more measured, more moderate or more restrained.
“It does not reflect the spirit of constructive cooperation that has always existed between us.”
The Trust have taken objection both to the low-rise scheme itself and also to the manner in which the scheme was announced.
“They have got it completely wrong and have unfairly jumped to the wrong conclusions,” No. 6 said.
“Firstly, the Government announcement itself declared clearly in black and white that the “tabling of this project before the Development and Planning Commission will mark the formal start of the consultation process with all interested parties.”
“Therefore the comments made by the Trust in relation to the manner in which the scheme was launched, which made up the bulk of their criticism, is in truth totally without foundation.”
Secondly, the Government reiterated that Grand Parade is a car park and it is proposed that it will continue as a car park.
The fact that it was once used as a parade ground does not mean that it is still used as a parade ground, No. 6 said.
“This use ceased a long time ago.”
“Indeed, Casemates was once an army barracks, the leisure centre was a bastion, Lathbury Barracks was a barracks and a parade ground and the University is also housed in former military facilities.”
“It would have been practically impossible to develop these areas if successive Governments had adopted a fundamentalist approach to Heritage matters.”
“In fact, the construction of a low-rise car park in Grand Parade, which does include an underground level, should not be controversial precisely because it is an open area and there are no buildings of heritage significance.”
The Government added that it has been shocked by the tone and the language contained in the statement issued by the Heritage Trust which is both “unfair and uncalled for”.
“The Government considers that in this day and age it has a duty to deal with the historical parking problem faced by the residents of Alameda Estate, of Trafalgar House, and particularly those who live in the southern end of Main Street and the southern Upper Town precisely as identified in the STTP.”