Tall buildings in the Old Town

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The Gibraltar Heritage Trust is very concerned at the recent trend of building extensions and new builds being proposed for the Old Town which ignores Planning Policies and Guidance documents in the Gibraltar Development Plan.

The Plan clearly states that developments within the city walls should be 4 storeys, 5 in exceptional cases.

Although the Development Plan is generally for guidance rather than set in stone, the steady flow of these excessively high and out of character proposals for our historic quarter are seemingly now the norm and show that, in this respect, policies are not being taken seriously.

Development and Planning Commission deliberations are held in the public sphere and it is, therefore, the open knowledge that the Commission does not generally favour these tall proposals within the old town.

Through our representation at the DPC, the Trust always advocates for developments to adhere to the policy and often uses it’s vote against applications that exceed this and involve the significant loss of original buildings or character.

In recent meetings we have seen proposals on Main Street reduced from 8 floors to 5 and whilst it is fact that other developments with 7 floors have also been approved decisions are made on a case by case basis where it is shown that the morphology of the town can absorb the height.

The Trust’s position on these is always with an eye on not allowing the cumulative erosion of our skyline, the creation of oppressive spaces and a characterless architecture that reflects a pastiche.

When considering applications for tall buildings outside the City Walls there is more flexibility in policies for sites such as the Eastside and Devil’s Tower Road as it reduces pressure on the Old Town. However, in these sites too the Trust is concerned about ‘how high is too high?’. At what point will we obliterate key views of the very Rock that we are famous worldwide for?

Within the town area, there are currently open applications at various stages of the planning process which propose 6, 7, 9, 13 storeys.

In amongst this, we welcome the news that a couple of other developments with planning permission for 7 have reduced their schemes to 5 due to concerns over the impact on the area.

The demand for height seems to be fueled by the thirst for studio and 1 bedroom apartments for ‘key workers’. This industry requirement needs to be supported in a way that also manages the future. Not everyone will want to live in a 25m²apartment for the long-term so Gibraltar also needs to look to the needs of the local population wishing to step up the property ladder or expand their families.

Our old town properties can be, and many are being, successfully upgraded and converted sensitively, but increasingly new proposals make reference in their Design Statements about being ‘inspired’ by architecture from other parts of the world. Why can’t inspiration be drawn from our local vernacular architecture? Our built environment should tell the story of who we are, where we’ve come from and where we are going. As it stands there are in our view a few applications that are achieving this.

Our urban landscape is in constant flux and investment in regeneration and development is sorely needed in our old town, but the challenge is to also maintain and show Gibraltar’s spirit. Stricter adherence to the policies in the Development Plan is required, otherwise, there is no point in having one.