Govt caps building heights on Devil’s Tower Road amid fierce clash with GSD on planning issues

New planning guidance for Devil’s Tower Road states that no building higher than E1 will be permitted and that building heights should taper down as they get closer to Laguna Estate.

The Gibraltar Government revealed elements of the new guidance as it engaged with the GSD in a fierce battle of words over planning issues, particularly on Devil’s Tower Road.

Earlier this week the Chronicle reported on how members of the Development and Planning Commission had expressed concern that projects were being presented for Devil’s Tower Road without clear guidance on what was desired for that area.

There is widespread concern that new tall residential projects in that area are creating a wind tunnel that risks impacting the iconic view of the north face of the Rock, and without sufficient consideration on vital ancillary aspects such as utilities and the social impact of creating a new, densely populated residential area.

The GSD was sharply critical of the government, accusing it of dragging its feet on updating the 2009 Development Plan and providing specific guidance for Devil’s Tower Road.

It said that combination of factors was turning Gibraltar into “a concrete jungle”, adding the NGOs such as the Environmental Safety Group and the Gibraltar Heritage Trust were right to be critical of the present state of affairs.

The GSD echoed concerns about “opportunistic building” with a focus “it seems” on maximising profits for developers, leaving the public to carry the “social costs of this over-development”.

The government was turning Gibraltar into “a facsimile of Benidorm”, the party said.

“If the East side development and Devil’s Tower Road had been planned as a new town, all the amenities a new town would require could have been factored in at the beginning, not as an after-thought, in an ad hoc and piecemeal fashion,” said GSD MP Damon Bossino.

“Consequently, we are fast being lumbered with a characterless suburban sprawl, with all the attendant urban planning problems this will bring in the future. A dreadful legacy.”

“It is not just the GSD who has saying this.”

“The point has been made repeatedly by NGOs and others who sit on the Planning Commission.”

“While the ongoing process for the issuing of a new development plan grinds slowly forward there should at least be an immediate pause and reflection on how we proceed with Devil’s Tower Road in particular.”

In replying to the GSD, the Gibraltar Government said it had just this week provided updated planning guidance specifically for Devil’s Tower Road to the DPC for discussion.

“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,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

“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 guidance also reflects existing policy in the 2009 Development Plan encouraging residential projects in the Devil’s Tower area and the relocations of industrial and storage units to other areas.

The policy paper – which the government says will be published on the Town Planning website – was submitted last Tuesday and incorporates additional guidance for Devil’s Tower Road over and above what is already set out in the 2009 document, which defines in very broad, non-specific ways a plan to encourage residential development in this area.

It also urges the DPC - as does the existing plan – to take into account the impact of any new proposal on the wider urban and public environment, including accessibility and sustainable transport infrastructure.

The government noted too that tall buildings require approval from the Gibraltar Government even if cleared by the DPC.

It said that on several occasions – it cited E1, MidTown, King’s Wharf and a proposed development at Devil’s Tongue – the government had scaled back the height and massing of projects cleared by the DPC, and required additional public spaces.

“The Government has carried out a revolution in town planning since we were elected,” said Samantha Sacramento, the Minister for Town Planning.

“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.”

Damon Bossino, the shadow Minister for Planning said: “It is not just the GSD who has saying this. The point has been made repeatedly by NGOs and others who sit on the Planning Commission. While the ongoing process for the issuing of a new development plan grinds slowly forward there should at least be an immediate pause and reflection on how we proceed with Devil’s Tower Road in particular.” It seems that the Government have, albeit rather belatedly, adopted this approach with their Devil’s Tower Roadspecific guidance document which they only submitted to the DPC earlier this week. The Government is called upon to publish this document.

Viewpoint on this matter.

Season 9 - Episode 20 - 02/03/23 - Development of Devil's Tower Rd.