Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Planning Commission rejects Funicular Project

21st Century Rock Funicular Project * DPC says it would be “a permanent scar on the Rock”

A photomontage of the failed Gibraltar Funicular project turned down by the Planning Commission today - Click to view larger image.The government has sent a damning refusal notice to 21st Century Rock, the developer behind the controversial funicular project, formally turning down its application for outline planning permission for the project.

From the document it is clear that officials fear the funicular’s top station will spoil the Rock’s emblematic profile and that the project, which generated significant public opposition, will have an unacceptable adverse impact on wildlife and heritage sites in the area.

In a five-page letter dated July 28th, the Development and Planning Commission set out the 12 reasons on which it was basing its decision to turn down the application to build a rail running from the northern side of Casemates to the top of the Rock.

The DPC’s objections ranged from environmental and heritage issues to technical concerns about safety during the construction phase. But taken as a whole, they left little doubt that the commission – or at least the vast majority of its members – was fundamentally opposed to the scheme.

The DPC said the project was not compatible with nature laws protecting the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, adding that it contravened planning policies set out in government development plans dating back to 1991 and 1993.

The funicular would have “an unacceptable detrimental effect on the appearance, setting and integrity of numerous heritage sites” and was not in line with Gibraltar’s application to UNESCO for World Heritage Status.

It would also disturb archaeological deposits in the area, which the government plans to excavate as part of a long-term research programme.

The striking design for the funicular’s top station, perhaps the most publicly criticised aspect of the plan, also came under flack.

“The proposed siting and design of the upper terminal would have a significant adverse effect on the cultural heritage value of the Rock’s profile that has historically served to establish the Rock of Gibraltar as an important landmark, both geographically and metaphorically,” the DPC’s refusal notice said.

“The proposed development would seriously prejudice the government’s plans to carry out environmental improvements to the Northern Defence’s and to open the area up for public access as a tourist attraction,” it added.

The refusal notice said the funicular’s rail would amount to an “unacceptable and conspicuous man-made linear feature” in an otherwise mostly natural landscape, adding that even after mitigation measures and replanting took place, the funicular would represent “a permanent scar” on the Rock.

The DPC noted that the forecast 750,000 tourists who, according to the developer, will use the funicular every year would have a “devastating” effect on the ecology of the area in question. The commission also remained unconvinced by the company’s argument that most of those visitors would arrive on foot and highlighted the potential for traffic chaos in the area around the bottom station, close to Casemates.

The DPC also voiced concerns that the 21st Century Rock had provided “insufficient evidence” that the blasting techniques to be used in the tunnelling phase of the construction could be done safely and without risk to nearby residents. In a related point, it added:

“The risk of rock fall arising as a result of construction works and rock stabilisation is significant and it has not been adequately demonstrated that the risk can be reduced to acceptable levels.”

The company had 28 days from receipt of the letter to appeal the DPC’s decision, though the Chronicle understands that it has asked for an extension on this time period and will be granted one to the end of September.

The DPC’s decision is available for viewing by the public at the town planning office in Europort.

Related Articles:

29 July 2005 - DPC to inform Developer of the reasons for refusal

11 May 2005 - Anti-Funicular Groups welcome DPC decision

05 May 2005 - Funicular Proposal fails at first stage

27 March 2005 - Gibraltar News Online Poll gives a resounding 'No' to proposed Funicular Project

Funicular Project Photomontage

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