Together Gibraltar highlights concerns with lack of environmental impact assessments and financial transparency in Government’s new Victoria Keys development project
Together Gibraltar notes the Government is continuing their prolific expansion of the construction trade in Gibraltar with the Victoria Keys development, without giving due concern to environmental effects and by not adhering to promises of financial transparency. Together Gibraltar recognises the need for expansion, however this must be thoroughly considered in a way that respects the environment and the community. A few concerns come to mind:
Has an Environmental Impact Assessment been carried out? If so, in the interest of transparency will this be made public? If it hasn’t been carried out, then why has an announcement of such an ambitious project been made before being released to the public? The public has a right to know what the environmental impacts will be and how these will be mitigated or avoided altogether. The Government talks about using the mountain of rubble on the east side, which is already of concern to Catalan Bay residents, mentioning that this needs to be cleared for construction of the affordable homes at Hassan Tercentenary Terraces to begin. If that is the case, what was the original plan to clear that rubble and where is the evidence that it is acceptable to shift that to use for reclamation? And where does government propose to put future rubble? Does it have a sustainable plan for rubble dumping for the long term or is this ‘solution’ a one-off, which will only start compounding at a later date?
. This also raises the question of whether the rubble is fit for use for a reclamation project? Will it be free from contamination before putting in the sea? How will they prevent any toxic compounds leaching into the marine environment, such as gasoline range organic compounds, tributyltin, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phenols, heavy metals, and other pollutants?
There is also the issue of dredging in order to ensure access for boats to Queensway Quay marina and how this will impact the seabed. Then there is the issue of the health of the waters in the marina and the harbour area seeing as circulation will be affected. How will they mitigate the impact of poor circulation and potential stagnation as well as the potential leaching of toxic pollutants into the waters?
Together Gibraltar also questions the transparency of this project since the Government is awarding the development to a consortium of local developers, Harbour Development Limited, with no prior announcement or tender process. Further, this project has been in the pipeline for two years without any consultation with the general public or Parliament, when the reclamation is said to be financed by a Government-owned company with the funds raised from the £300 million loan from mortgaging our Estates. On completion not only will the Government-owned company be paid in full and with interest, but they will also receive a prime site (50% of the southernmost side of the reclaimed plot) worth £25 million. There is no mention what this plot, that has already been agreed and handed out, is to be used for. It is in the public interest to know what Government-owned company this is and who is on its board of directors. There is no detail of how much is being invested and how much is being repaid, what the projected cost is and how much the developer will pay Government.
The Government’s press release mentions that there will be a residential use for the plot yet fails to say whether any of this will be allocated to affordable housing. If it turns out there are no plans for affordable housing or these are minimal, it raises the point, why are they using part of the £300 million mortgage to the taxpayer to fund luxury projects? If that were the case, it proves that the concerns that Action for Housing and other concerned pressure groups have expressed to Government, have not been received. There is a housing crisis at the lower level and no mention of whether the Victoria Keys development will address this in any way. What will be the overall benefit to the community, aside from luxury housing and commercial premises? Will there be a park, sports facilities, recreational areas and will these be enough to offset the lack of benefit of luxury housing to the general community?
Another point is that despite the development being within our port area and as such not subject to any potential claim by Spain and with no transboundary effects, there will be no reclamation until after a transitional period from Brexit. Given the fact there is still huge uncertainty surrounding Brexit and there is no potential controversy with our neighbours, why can’t the Government commit to a date? This brings to mind the Blue Water project from 2015 that was announced and never came to be.
The Chief Minister describes the Victoria Keys project as “our very own garden by the sea”. However, a few green and landscaped areas amid a concrete jungle does not make a garden. We must not forget that the Government declared a climate emergency on March 28th, and on April 8th they announce a project that will virtually guarantee increased pollution for at least 5 years from the time development begins. How will this tie in with its commitment to make Gibraltar carbon neutral by 2030 or reducing current pollution levels? How can our present infrastructure deal with the pressures of this new development and how will these be overcome?
Together Gibraltar is in favour of comprehensive environmental and urban plans in forming any new developments. It appears that this development hasn't gone through any sort of consultation or impact assessment, -be it in the public domain or via the Gibraltar Parliament- and therefore while we recognise the need for expansion it has to be thoroughly considered in a way that respects the environment and the needs of the community.