Friday, January 21, 2005

Lobby Group to mobilise public opposition to Funicular Project

by Jonathan Teuma

As opposition from various quarters against the proposed funicular project gathers momentum, the Lobby Group Against the Funicular have said they are “delighted by the strong public support they have received” from associations representing trade, heritage and environmental protection.

The Group has contacted a similar lobby set up in the Cairngorms to oppose a Funicular project there. That lobby (quoted in the impact study put forward by the proposed developers) failed in its attempt to stop the project.

“That funicular is now operating at a loss and is seeking to extend its activities and so further spoil the natural environment of the area in an effort to find alternative sources of income” say the local lobby group.


The Lobby also puts into question developers’ claims that the funicular will more than double the number of visitors to the Upper Rock, stating that “when the project fails it will leave us nothing.” They also note that the existing infrastructure has served Gibraltar well and the livelihood of many families depends upon it. There are also worries within the group that the large facilities on the top station will pose a threat to hotels and restaurants as conferences and functions will be enticed to this new location.

The group says that the cost of the Funicular “has risen from £11 to £15.5 million.” As well as this the Lobby has said that the proposed developers are “seeking investors and that the existing backers are looking for additional partners.”

A Lobby Group spokesman added:

“A campaign to raise public support is to be initiated by our members and any interested parties or associations are invited to support the initiative in the hope that this project is not permitted for the benefit of our trade, our heritage and environment.”

The lobby group consists of the following local companies: Calypso Tours, Persian Rose, Southern Garages Management, The Gibraltar Taxi Association and M H Bland.

Heritage Trust express “strong” opposition

For its part the Gibraltar Heritage Trust claims that the “disruption, disturbance, and in some cases potential destruction that would be caused” by the Funicular project “would not be justified and is unacceptable.” The Trust believes that the project “poses grave dangers to the Heritage assets of Gibraltar and should not be approved.” It has not seen anything since the announcement of the project that would change its mind and furthermore feels that “this project would severely jeopardise Gibraltar’s application to UNESCO for World Heritage Status.

Chamber Concerns

Meanwhile the Chamber of Commerce has informed the Chronicle of representations made to it by concerned members who feel that the proposed project will have a detrimental effect on their businesses. The positioning of the bottom station could mean that tourists go directly to the Upper Rock and then leave Gibraltar without entering the City Walls.

Like the Lobby Group the Chamber is worried that the top station will monopolise the holding of conferences and other functions hence posing an unfair challenge to hotels and restaurants in town, and urges Government to take account of existing trade.

The Chamber feels that before considering such projects Government should set out clear policies on the Upper Rock. Without such policies (encompassing traffic, environment, heritage and other related factors) it is difficult to assess the benefits, or lack of, that this project could have, they added.

Public Split on Funicular

After taking a small sample of public opinion the Chronicle has learnt that views on the proposed Funicular project are split down the middle. Those who are in favour of the project feel that it would attract more tourism to the Rock. It has also been pointed out that it would provide much needed competition for the tourism industry and could lead to a leveling out of prices for Rock tours, which were described as extortionate.

Those against the project quoted the environmental concerns expounded by such groups as the Environmental Safety Groupand GONHS. Others were worried about the impact on Heritage sites. All those questioned felt that more information, regarding the funding of the project and how it would be managed in the future should be divulged.

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