The Development and Planning Commission (DPC) is the decision making authority for all new buildings in Gibraltar, and as such, the members of the DPC are entrusted with a heavy responsibility to the public and future generations to make the right decisions.
Their task is not easy. On the one hand they have to consider the persuasive arguments put to them by property developers in conjunction with the public objections, whilst at the same time trying to assess the benefits and pitfalls of any proposal put to them in an impartial manner.
There is however a growing sentiment in Gibraltar that the DPC has made a number of decisions in recent years not so much based on a forward looking perspective, but rather on a reactionary basis, that at times seem to be influenced by the political and economic pressures of the moment.
And, whilst anyone who is familiar with Gibraltar will agree that more homes need to be constructed, there seems to be a greater gulf than ever between the decisions of the planning department and the expectations of the public at large.
I have lost count of the times people have said that Gibraltar runs the risk of becoming a concrete jungle, and whilst I do not believe we have yet reached a point where the skyline is dominated by high rise buildings, we potentially run the risk of that happening unless the planning department and DPC follow clear planning guidelines.
Unlike when a Government enacts legislation which subsequently needs amending or repealing, there is no magical formula to rectify planning mistakes, and when errors are made by the DPC, they can be profound and potentially affect the quality of life to the detriment of the population for centuries.
The last planning development guidelines were contained in The Gibraltar Development Plan 2009. It was intended to be the initial step in establishing a sound planning framework that could guide land use planning for the following 10 years, and in the process offer certainty to the general public and prospective developers.
It was always envisaged the guidelines contained in the Development Plan would be reviewed and updated to keep abreast of Gibraltar’s changing circumstances, but despite the passing of many years since its publication, and the obvious need for the Development Plan to be reviewed and updated, that has not as yet occurred.
As a result, too many planning decisions in recent years have appeared to disregard the guidelines of the last Development Plan, and the lack of a coherent up-to date planning road-map is one of the key reasons behind the public’s dissatisfaction with many planning decisions.
Everyone recognises the special character of Gibraltar’s natural, built and cultural environment as a valuable resource and we have a duty to ensure that this is not significantly adversely affected by new developments.
With the increasing pressure to construct more and more on our limited land mass, I hope that 2017 will see the implementation of new planning guidelines – that will go a long way to offering the certainty that developers and the public expect and deserve.