Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Desoisa spells out “implacable opposition” to Funicular Project

Gibraltar Heritage Trust has once again expressed its "implacable opposition" to the funicular project because it would "deface the badge of our cultural identity."

Speaking to the Chronicle yesterday chairman Joe Desoisa on behalf of the anti-funicular lobby group that includes the Environmental Safety Group and GONHS, said the project is "riddled with inconsistencies, incomplete and misleading," while arguing that the figure presented by the developers that it would attract 750,000 tourists to Gibraltar is not backed by any market research or evidence.

Mr Desosia said the groups opposing the plan take issue with statements made by representatives of the developers 21st Century Rock, and argue that they will take legal action if the plan is approved by the Development and Planning Commission since, they say, "the project would be carried out in a conservation area and is in breach of the Heritage and Nature Protection Ordinance."

As regards the decision to be taken by the DPC - the meeting will now take place on March 3rd. Mr Desoisa said he did not know what way it will go but declared that he did not see them "approving the scheme and claiming to retain their sanity."

Meanwhile GONHS epresentative Keith Bensusan replied to statements that the project was supported by the silent majority, remarking that, in fact there was "a not so silent majority against the project." The groups also noted that the petition to stop the project launched some weeks ago is being "well supported by the population."

Mr Desoisa said the official project submission regarding the details of the project is substantially different to some of the later pronouncements made by the company. "What do we go by?" he asks.

He also vigorously disputes the claims that the funicular project is environmentally and heritage friendly putting forward the findings of the developer's own Environmental Impact Assessment to back his objections.

"Their own assessment with 8 negative points as opposed to 3 positive ones that are questionable anyway, deflates the claim that they are environmentally friendly," he said.

Mr Desoisa also rejected that the train could be driven by solar or wind power arguing that in respect of the latter there was no provision in their submission for the installation of windmills in the Rock face. The depth of excavation that would be required to obtain stability for these structures, he continued, was far greater than is suggested by the information and drawings put out by the developer, would breach the ancient walls and create a risk of rock falls on Catalan Bay.

As regards the publicised support in a ratio of 2:1 of Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses members, Mr Desoisa challenged this and said the vast majority of them had not voted and that in real terms this backing amounted to 15% of the membership.

"I think this figure reflects the level of public support for the funicular in the community."

Mr Desoisa said it was "presumptuous and patronising" of the developers to question the motives of the anti-funicular lobby, motives that he said were transparent and based on non-lucrative reasons since they had a responsibility to protect local heritage and environmental interests.

"We have a common objective, and that is that we want to save our Rock," he said.

For his part Mr Bensusan declared that there was an important matter of scale that had to be considered, arguing that to install a funicular in a large park area such as the one in Cape Point would not have any impact, while in a small nature reserve such as the Upper Rock "it would have a visual impact on the whole of Gibraltar."

He also commented on other funiculars in other parts of the world which had not fulfilled expectations. An example was the proposed funicular railway down the side of Mt Vesuvius in 1991 that was subsequently abandoned.

Cairngorm Funicular Train En Route - Aviemore

He also reiterated how the Aviemore funicular in Scotland was running at a financial loss, and noted that a proposal to have one installed in the Machu Pichu had been abandoned after Unesco threatened to withdraw its World Heritage designation "because it is so intrusive."

Messrs Desoisa and Bensusan also said that the Gibraltar Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals had also expressed its opposition to the funicular "because of its effect on wildlife and animals." They said that the groups they represent are in favour of an evolving tourist product for Gibraltar but in a manner that is sustainable and does not harm the environment, and added that the funicular would cause economic harm to other business operators and social harm and discontent in the community.

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