Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Chamber President stresses the need for benefits to flow

Tripartite talks

By Peter Schirmer

In the new, more positive climate in which tripartite talks that include Gibraltar are being held “in a spirit of cooperation and with a view to benefiting not only Gibraltar but the whole Campo de Gibraltar area” it was vital that benefits were seen to flow sooner rather than later, Peter Isola, president of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce told its annual general meeting last night.

For if the forum achieved positive results relatively quickly “it may cause a domino effect with long-standing difficulties being overcome to the benefit of all,” he added.

There were already signs of good faith on the part of the Spanish Government, “albeit by ending situations which should have never existed” and in bad weather Gibraltar flights could now land in Malaga and cruise liners which had visited Gibraltar could now enter Spanish ports.

“It may well be that we now see some form of commercial airport agreement for the benefit of all…and hopefully an agreement to end the telephone numbering problem in Gibraltar,” he added.


The Chamber had a role to play in all this, Mr Isola suggested, by putting forward to the Chief Minister issues, which he could raise with his Spanish and British counterparts.

“This could be done by the Chief Minister reactivating the Economic Advisory Council which used to meet every three months and which the Chamber of Commerce, along with other bodies, formed a part,” Mr Isola suggested. It would be of benefit to the Chief Minister who would be attending the talks in the knowledge that he had the support of the Economic Advisory Council - backing to which he could refer.

“Although the Chamber of Commerce inevitably gets caught up in international and political affairs we always try and keep our feet firmly on the ground and tackle issues that affect our members,” Mr Isola continued.


“On many occasions members raise issues with us and we raise them with the Government,” he added – clearly laying the ground for remarks relating to the controversial plans for a funicular from Casemates to the Upper Rock. It is an issue about which some of its members feel strongly and which has drawn the Chamber into some flak.

Though many of the issues which the Chamber tackles do not “make the front page of our daily newspapers”, the Board believed strongly that “we should tackle those issues which our members raise with us...”

In this context the funicular had raised its head. “And I have never known a proposed development to raise so much objection, letters and articles in the press,” Isola said. “The Chamber was approached by a number of members who were concerned about the effect the funicular would have on trade and on their employees - and, indeed, on themselves - if it were to proceed. We wrote to the Development and Planning Commission expressing our members’ concerns and objection to the project proceeding.

“Concerns were based on the effect on their trade that the funicular would have and the effect on tourism for our existing Chamber members. Will the auditorium be viable? How is the funicular going to manage to deliver so many people to the auditorium? Will there be shops? Will it affect Main Street trade? Will electronics, jewellery, watches, clothes etc. be sold there? Is it surprising that one of the objectors is the present cable car operator, which has served Gibraltar’s tourism industry for decades and now sees its business under threat?”

“These are genuine concerns, which our members have in respect of this project.”

There were also other issues in respect of heritage, in respect of ornithology, in respect of whether the ‘flying saucer’ concept on the Rock would be “a delight to our eyes or a carbuncle on our heritage,” Mr Isola added. But these were questions for others to raise. “Our concerns are trade and our members,” he stressed.
Mr Isola said that the Chamber was concerned that the Government did not seem to have a long term strategy for the Upper Rock.

“If it does, we are not aware of it. Now we would urge the Government to review the whole of the Upper Rock, decide the best way to improve and link up to the Upper Rock. Everyone agrees we need a plan and action needs to be taken.

When there was a plan – and one in the best interests of Gibraltar - it would be sensible to tender such projects (rather than allocate them directly) “so that not only new investors, but also existing members which have provided services and trade to Gibraltar for many years if not decades can also benefit from any new plans that the Government may have for Gibraltar.”

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