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10th February 2019, 20:01

Hassan Centenary Terraces takes step forward at DPC but with NGO reservations

The Government’s new affordable Housing Scheme took a step forward, despite reservations from the three non-governmental organisations with seats on the Development and Planning Commission (see statement below).

Hassans Centenary Terraces envisages the construction of 665 residential units in six apartment blocks that would be - comfortably - the tallest in Gibraltar.

On Monday the DPC committee considered an Environmental Impact Assessment, and provided recommendations and guidance.

Architect's view of what would become Gibraltar's tallest blocks

At its highest point, the proposed development a the old Eastern Beach public car park is set to climb a full 35 levels: that’s 110 meters.

Robert Matto, Director of WSRM Architects, told the DPC this development will be a catalyst for future development; the start of a new city district on the east side of the Rock, much like Europort is on the west. He said the blocks would be highly visible for all driving into Gibraltar once the runway tunnel is active. Although it will be a high density development, they have tried for the visual impact to be positive, allowing air and views to move between slender, rounded towers.

Mr Matto explained that the large number of apartments the Government wants to build means Hassan Centenary Terraces has to be significantly higher than all other blocks on the Rock. Minimising the footprint on the ground leaves space for the public to enjoy, he said.

The construction has gone out to tender and it is expected that a contractor will be chosen soon.

Environmental Impact Assessment

For her part, Dr Caroline Francis of Jacobs, talked about the environmental impact assessment. She said the project would have no significant transboundaryeffect. She acknowledged the major adverse impact on the Catalan Bay landscape character and said there would be a minor adverse impact on the neighbouring world heritage site. She also said the height of the blocks would have a significant adverse impact in bringing upper level winds down.

She told the DPC the intention is that the spoil pit be cleared during construction. 

Statement by GONHS, Heritage Trust & Environmental Safety Group in full

"The ESG, Heritage Trust and GONHS would like to issue a joint statement on planning issues that the Hassan Centenary Terraces have flagged up with regard to Government projects.

These have arisen from our joint concerns on the impacts of the Hassan Centenary Terraces on their immediate surroundings and landscape, but also on the process that has been followed.

Our organisations are not against sensible development, and we are certainly in favour of new homes for those who need them. But we also have a duty to speak out when those aspects of Gibraltar that we are expected to defend the interests of – the natural and built environment, our heritage and well-being – are compromised.

We have submitted detailed feedback on this project when requested and have expressed deep concerns to the Government.In particular, we held a lengthy meeting with the Chief Minister and are grateful for the generous time that we were given.

Nevertheless, we were aware that Hassan Centenary Terraces were going to press ahead at this scale unchanged, due to the pressure of providing affordable housing.

We therefore find it necessary to air our concerns:

  1. This is a major departure from the previous Blue Water project for this entire area, where a holistic plan had been drawn up after extensive consultation and heights were 2.5 times lowerthan those proposed today.
  2. The scale of these buildings, so close to the north face of the Rock and to the beach, will have a negative visual impact on our iconic landscape.
  3. Such tall buildings will create a precedent for the remaining, major plot awaiting development on the east side, creating a kind of Benidorm effect.
  4. There has been a lack of timely consultation when compared to the previous, and indeed many private projects, without time to properly address concerns in terms of timescales for feedback and whether any meaningful changes can be made in response to adverse effects identified in the Landscape and Visual Assessment or EIA.
  5. The timing of three EIAs required for building construction, coastal works and removal of the spoil mound, and the synergy between these, appears to be suboptimal.
  6. The impact on beach users has not been assessed adequately.
  7. There is an urgent need for a holistic plan for Gibraltar that values our iconic vistas and protects them effectively – an issue pursued jointly by our NGOs over the last few years.
  8. That, difficult though it may be, a more effective means of assessing Gibraltar’s affordable housing needs appears to be necessary, including improving management of existing affordable housing and government rental stock. An evidence-based and impartial approach will surely improve land-use.

DPC has improved greatly in its transparency, but Government projects are still not subjected to a vote. Thus, this project is presented today to this Commission for comment, but not permission. This has to change.

We recognise that Government intends to subject its projects to the full planning process in due course, via the new Town Planning Act. But we urge the Government to do so straight away. We also ask that the new Gibraltar Development Plan be produced as a matter of the highest priority, integrating the need to protect the iconic vistas that define this Rock and its community.

Urban development is an important facet of our economy, and Gibraltarians need homes. Crucially, one of our most important assets – land for development – is also one of our most scarce. We believe that this can only be managed effectively with as robust as possible a planning process and development plan. One that is capable of scrutinising all projects equally."

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