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  • Opinion Piece by Janet Howitt on Planning Issues 30th June 2015 and 13th July 2015

    It was the author’s intention to stimulate debate and discussion on an issue of deep interest to many who live on the Rock. It is hoped that it has achieved that. Since its publication on the 29th June Government has announced the draft Town Act bill for public feedback, and today, the 13th July, the Heritage Act, also for public feedback.
    It is progress of some kind. We must, as a community, not ignore this opportunity of participating in the process that will determine ultimately, how decisions will be taken on planning and on protection of our heritage and the environment.
    Please visit Government website Command Papers section

    Opinion piece by Janet Howitt June 2015
    Having seen the latest application by Ocean Village given the green light for Waterside Villas in the Marina Bay waters, I felt compelled to put pen to paper and share some deep misgivings about our planning process here in Gibraltar. This application once again demonstrated how divisive and challenging a planning matter can become and yet still get through the system.
    Undoubtedly, plans, consultation and transparency are on a much better footing than in the past and this is to be commended. The level of scrutiny, for instance, on how an application will affect flora and fauna, and on the impacts on residents, from industrial activity, has also improved. All this is indeed progress.
    However, since the ESG has sat on the DPC, for almost 4 years now, what has struck me the most is that in spite of the great efforts taken by all concerned to open up and democratise the planning system, there continue to be serious cracks in planning in Gibraltar today that need to be tackled before much more of our beloved land is concreted over.
    There are a number of pending and major issues which affect planning, which are awaiting resolution, development, or even setting up. Some of these are:
     Revision of the Town Act – Promised at the last election and still not seen any form of public consultation. This important document affects our rights as citizens; it also directs procedures for developers, objectors, Government departments and the wider public and should be reflecting the Gibraltar we live in today. Its revision is central to improve current planning practices in Gibraltar
     Heritage Act – Must be finalised and published alongside the efforts from the action group set up to review all existing heritage build to prevent further avoidable losses (a la Risso Bakery and others)
     E Planning – The provision of online application information has long been promised and is a measure that will ensure that the public has adequate time to review plans that interest them. This should include all projects – both private and government, which should come before DPC for full planning permission and process
    · Holistic Planning for Gibraltar – Town Planners will say that the Development Plan determines what can happen in various zones in Gibraltar but, as we have seen over the years, many projects continue to shock, upset and anger the public. Better dissemination of information over the entire, potential development envisaged for Gibraltar plc, by whoever is in Government, must therefore be laid more transparently before the people
     Ongoing revision of the 2009 Gibraltar Development Plan – This is a critical tool that directs and enforces planning in Gibraltar and improved public feedback and participation would greatly assist here too
     Strategic Vistas – This is a crucial concept in planning policy and yet is currently absent from planning considerations in Gibraltar because it has not yet been developed as a useable tool due to lack of resources. It needs to be assessed, also with public feedback, and set up, urgently

    Development is often sold as a key earner and pillar of our economy and so it is difficult to oppose it without appearing to undermine Gibraltar’s economic wellbeing. It is equally important to consider how sustainable all this development is. Future generations should also be able to rely on this resource for economic stability.
    Although individual political parties would be expected to prioritise different types of development, the range of permitted development would be embedded in law, and so contained. This way projects would get approved on suitability as well as opportunity for investment.
    With an increasingly congested area, it is essential, even at this late stage that development is looked at holistically. Let us have very clearly explained precisely how much of Gibraltar is due to be developed, how much is in private hands and how much is protected from development. Informing the community in this transparent way will hopefully avoid the recurring disappointment that occurs when another open space falls under the hammer. The nymbism (“not in my back yard syndrome” as cynically quoted by some) is a natural reaction when such information is not forthcoming.
    But we still to need to ask ourselves whether the public should have a say on how we proceed with development in Gibraltar in broad terms? Our land, which was out of reach for many years, and the prerogative of past colonial masters, is now IN OUR HANDS. I believe we should have a say, on an informed basis so we also bear the responsibility of meeting society’s needs.
    We must do this positively, understanding what we need to do and how we need to get there. Planning is fraught with contention in most places in the world, but in a tiny place like Gibraltar, we should endeavour to carry this out together as a community, embracing the highest standards and in full knowledge of what is planned under the master plan.
    Essential factors such as livability, quality of life and protecting our living environment and heritage should also be incorporated in a holistic manner underpinning a strong and workable Gibraltar Plan.
    In order to ensure that the DPC is the neutral body it should be, the ESG has advocated in our Wish List 2015 for the removal of Government ministers on the Commission. The reasoning for this is that it would remove the manifesto commitment element from planning decisions and ensure that all projects are approved subject to meeting best planning standards, design and practice and meet the requirements of the master “Gibraltar Plan”. Is this naïve thinking? I don’t think so.
    At a number of DPC sessions I have raised the need to build in, or preserve, breathing space between developments. This is important and necessary to reduce the sense of the concrete jungle Gibraltar is fast becoming in places.
    Development in Gibraltar is undergoing a massive push at present. It is apparent that some major decisions are also taken some time before reaching the DPC where it is difficult, at times, to fully appraise a project before taking a vote on it.
    Therefore it is my view that the various measures mentioned above and repeated here could go some way to improving planning standards and outcomes from where we are today: achieving urgent public feedback on the Town Act, publication of the Heritage Act, E-planning, ensuring that Govt projects undergo procedures for full planning permission, removal of Govt Ministers from DPC, Holistic and Forward planning, Development Plan review, and importantly the protection of essential Strategic Vistas of Gibraltar. There are still significant areas in Gibraltar free from development – lets make sure these are treated as the valuable assets they are to us all.
    Sincerely, Janet Howitt