The Opposition have a remarkable ability to cloud the issue whenever they have been caught out. The point is that they jumped on a planning bandwagon on the question of guidance for Devil’s Tower Road planning applications without realising that the action had already been taken and the guidance had already been submitted! This is being published on the Town Planning website, in line with the policy of openness and transparency that the Government delivered to the planning process soon after being first elected.
It is important to understand that the 2009 Gibraltar Development Plan did not automatically cease to exist on 31 December 2019. It continues in place and to govern planning applications made all over Gibraltar until it is replaced by a new plan. There are parts of the existing plan that deal specifically with Devil’s Tower Road and specifically with Tall Buildings. The Policy Paper which was submitted on Tuesday reproduces the guidance in respect of these two issues and incorporates a set of additional new guidance notes both for the Development and Planning Commission and for prospective developers. This has come about as a result of meetings last year between the Town Planner and the Government.
The Paper reaffirms existing Policy GDS-15 on tall buildings, which will not be permitted within the City Walls as at present. This is that all applications for tall buildings shall need to be accompanied by a comprehensive design statement, and that consideration shall be given in particular to a set of factors. This includes the relationship to context such as natural topography, scale, height, built form, streetscape, architectural quality like massing, silhouette, materials and sustainable design and construction. The DPC should also consider the contribution made to public spaces and facilities, particularly the contribution to the provision of a mix of uses at ground floor level and the creation of quality public realm. The effect on the environment like microclimate and overshadowing must also be taken into account by the DPC, as well airfield safety requirements. All this guidance on tall buildings is already in place and has applied since 2009 everywhere in Gibraltar.
Moreover, in addition to planning permission tall building proposals also require the approval of the Government. This is why the Government intervened to reduce the number of floors on the E1 development, despite the fact that the DPC had actually approved an even taller building! The same thing happened with the development at Devil’s Tongue, the DPC approved more floors and the Government made the developer reduce the height and the massing. Indeed, on coming into office one of the first actions of the Government as landlords was to require a reduction in height of the Mid Town development and King’s Wharf, with the provision of a public open space in the former, now known as Campion Park, and a promenade with public access in the latter.
The new Policy Paper also reaffirms section 17.3 of the 2009 Plan in relation to Devil’s Tower Road. This includes both to encourage residential development along that area and to encourage industrial, commercial and storage uses to re-locate away from there to more appropriate locations. There is a standing policy to avoid the introduction of heavy industry into the area.
The new guidance given to the DPC is that no building will be permitted in Devil’s Tower Road which is higher than E1 and that the general approach should be that building heights should taper down from E1 at the tallest point, to Laguna Estate at the lowest, with a variety in architectural design and in height within that restriction. The ground floor of new buildings in Devil’s Tower Road must provide commercial units and public amenities where facing the road, including shops, spas, restaurants, cafes and cultural venues. It is stipulated that the top floors of new buildings in Devil’s Tower Road must be set back away from the streetscape at higher levels. Buildings must ensure that they comply with the near zero-energy requirement or provide on-site or off-site compensation in order to achieve this.
The new guidance makes it clear that accessibility outside buildings in the public arena will became an important consideration, even though at present this only applies to internal areas. The Commission is guided to encourage the concept of a more scenic east-west pedestrian and cycling route to the north of Devil’s Tower Road when considering applications for development in that zone.
The Minister with responsibility for Town Planning, Hon Samantha Sacramento MP said: “The Government has carried out a revolution in town planning since we were elected. The entire planning process used to take place in secret and behind closed doors, the minutes and the agenda were not published. We opened up the planning process to the general public so that everything from planning applications to actual meetings, discussions and votes now take place in full public view. This is the most open and transparent planning process in the history of Gibraltar, although there will always be room for further improvement and for more work to be done. I fully explained to the Gibraltar Parliament the reason for the delay in the production of a new Development Plan, which came about in 2019 when we commenced the tender process for a new plan. That process had to be stopped because of the pandemic, and that delay in turn made the tender lapse. A new tender process recommenced last year. However, this does not mean that the existing plan has ceased to exist, it continues to operate and its guidelines, principles and rules continue to apply. It is very sad to see the Opposition politicise yet another issue in the negative and destructive manner to which they have us all accustomed, in particular in the area of town planning where they have little to be proud of.”