MOUNTAIN OF SHAME HIGHLIGHTS FUNDAMENTAL FLAW IN PLANNING PROCESS
" The Government has insulted the intelligence of the electorate by raising the Eastside project election after election with very little or practically nothing at all actually happening in between. ”
Shadow Minister for development and planning Dr Joseph Garcia has said that the length of time that the Government has taken to get the Eastside project moving has served to expose a fundamental flaw in the planning process of Gibraltar. This is that a developer is earmarked a site and then nothing happens for years on end. No doubt with the approach of a general election, the Government will resurrect the East side project once again as they have done at practically every election that they have contested. This time they cannot expect the public to take the GSD seriously any more.
The Government announced as far back as 2003 that it had awarded preferred bidder status to a company in respect of the Eastside project. The project under negotiation consisted at the time of a 500 yacht marina, “at least” two hotels, a boutique cruise ship terminal, several hundred luxury flats and 200 so-called affordable housing for the local market.
In January 2005, the Government announced that they had signed a Commercial Master Agreement for the Eastside project with the developer MCB (Gibraltar) Ltd. The project was smaller to that which had originally been under discussion, given that the two hotels now became one and the 500 boat marina became a 300 boat marina. The developer would also execute a large amount of infrastructure works for the Government, including the new beaches project, a new electricity generating station, car parks and up to 200 affordable homes. It was then said that the trigger for these commitments was the grant of outline planning permission for the main development in a period of “up to” 14 months from January 2005. This meant March 2006.
Therefore under this timescale:
- there were to be affordable houses in 30 months, or by June 2008;
- there was to be an electricity generating station, water and sewage works in 30 months or by June 2008;
- the beaches project would be complete in 24 months or by February 2007;
- the hotel, marina and at least 500 flats would be complete within a maximum of six years by March 2012;
- the remainder would be complete in 10 years or by March 2016.
Needless to say none of this has happened or will happen in the timescales that were given.
In June 2005, the Government announced that the developer had submitted an application for outline planning permission. It said that filing “the application for outline planning for the Sovereign Bay project and the beaches protection project therefore marked an important milestone and has commenced the planning process in respect of this major development.”
It will be recalled that in its manifesto for the 2007 general elections, the GSD described the Eastside project as being “very much on track”. They said that final agreement had been reached on all issues with the developers who were conducting an environmental impact assessment which “will be submitted to DPC, with outline plans, within 2 months.” The GSD said then that the developer had already paid in excess of £30 million in premiums and that at least a further £70 million would be paid. The impression was therefore given to the electorate that there was not long to wait.
In 2008 Shadow Minister with responsibility for development and planning Dr Joseph Garcia probed the Government on whether any changes had been made to the approved scheme for the Eastside project and what they were. Parliament was then told that the original Foster Scheme which was submitted for outline planning application in 2005, was not considered or approved because there was no accompanying environmental impact assessment report. This means that what the Government trumpeted as an “important milestone” in the planning process of this development was actually nothing of the kind given that the plans submitted in 2005 were not even considered still less approved!
Parliament was told that a varied scheme was the subject of a new submission to the DPC in December 2007 and that this was approved in April 2008. The name of the project was changed at this time from Sovereign Bay to Cape Vantage. The new project no longer encompassed a marina, which was then seen as phase two. The infrastructural projects were dropped from the equation. The average net habitable area of each apartment was reduced from 140 m2 to 120 m2 which increased the number of luxury apartments that could be built.
When the issue was raised in Parliament again in February 2010, the House was told that the anticipated commencement date of the Eastside development was three years from the execution of the Lease. The Lease had not yet been signed. The site was being used to deposit rubble with the consent of the developers.
When the Opposition pressed the Government further in June 2010, the Government said that the agreed timeline “envisages the landlord granting the lease to the developer not later than 20 business days after the date which is 14 weeks from the date that a permit is granted to the developer under section 17 of the Town Planning Act.” The Chief Minister said then that the lease had not yet been executed by the developer even though such a permit had already been granted. He also told the House that on the basis that a substantial part of the premium had been paid, the Government, as landlord, had sought not to enforce the original timeline.
Parliament was told in September 2010 that the permit under section 17 of the Town Planning Act was granted on 18th April 2008 and that an amount of £32,985,000 in respect of the premium due had already been paid. The last payment was made at the end of March 2007.
Commenting on the matter, Shadow Minister responsible for development and planning Dr Joseph Garcia said:
“The Government told the electorate that final agreement had been reached on all issues with the developer in 2007. The original scheme envisaged that a large part of the project should have been completed by now. The timeline under the revised scheme has not been enforced by the Government even though the permit which triggered the timeline was issued over three years ago.
The Government has insulted the intelligence of the electorate by raising the Eastside project election after election with very little or practically nothing at all actually happening in between. This is totally unacceptable and it is an example of why our development and planning laws need a radical shake-up.”