Victoria Keys - Victory for Who and Who is really Holding the Keys? / by Daniel Ghio

Gibraltar Masterplan-V2 High Res-12.19.jpg

Victoria Keys

Victory for Who and Who is really Holding the Keys?

June 2015, months away from a General Election. The Government held a fancy press conference announcing a new major project on the Eastside that included a super yacht marina, a five star hotel, promenade, commercial area, affordable housing, public pool and multi-storey car park and to top it off, the project would see an inward investment of £1.1 billion - described by the Chief Minister as the largest ever inward investment into Gibraltar at the time. Another plus at the time was the disappearance of the forsaken, eternal mini Gibraltar (rubble edition) on the Eastside. It’s important to point out there was a tender process behind this project.

RIP - We hardly knew thee

Now welcome to the present, April 2019 at the time of writing. Bluewater never came to be. Why exactly? It remains unknown. The announcement came at a time before the Brexit referendum and I think many people were confident the remain vote would edge out the leave vote and, well…. we all know how that turned out,. Perhaps it’s 2030 and you’re reading this and the UK is still discussing in Parliament how to leave the EU.

This week, we’ve had a very similar announcement by the Government, albeit with less fanfare and no fancy press conferences. A major reclamation project is to be undertaken at Coaling Island called “Victoria Keys” (or should it be Quay?). The timing is awfully similar to Bluewater, just months away from an election. A project which unlike Bluewater, there has been no tender process for. Transparency? Where? Unlike many of the other projects by Government, this was never a manifesto commitment… yes I’m looking at you Queen’s Cinema - you lovely, decaying, £3 million + tax payer funded purchase, full of potential theatre.

According to Government, this new project will provide 10 years of growth for Gibraltar. They’ve already compared this project similar to the old “Westside” reclamation but I can’t help but notice a few key differences. I grew up on the Westside development. The whole development benefited Gibraltar greatly, why? Because we got massive estates which were geared towards the working class and were considerably affordable… Gib V, Harbour Views, Montagu Gardens and we also got a massive supermarket for example. So this begs to ask the question, Victoria Keys benefits who?

According to the press release:

"Aims to create up to 60,000 sqm of new land area. This new land will provide approximately 100,000 sqm of residential buildings with leisure, community, retail and commercial use for a wide spectrum of local needs.  “

There are no specific points on the press release hinting at what type of residential buildings will be built. Can we expect prices starting at £200k for a studio for example? If that’s the case, then we’ll end up with Ocean Village 2.0 and realistically, people of significant net worth will be purchasing a property to tick the Cat 2/High Net Worth Individual tick boxes and we’ll end up with another stock of homes that are actually not lived in? And yes property agents, I know that regardless of the homes being empty, the fact that we have 357 registered Cat 2 individuals who pay duties etc… are bringing in a flat rate of around £29,000 in tax each, regardless that they’re net worth is over £2 million. The point I am trying to argue is the balance is wrong. The press release mentions that this will be built at “virtually no cost” to the tax payer, but that remains to be seen as it will be using £300 million from the mortgaging of Government rental estate. The true cost of all these developments is the little land we have, the land we build, ends up going to all these insane “luxury” developments which is out of reach to your average Gibraltarian thus further inflating the private market and making it even more unrealistic for anyone to find a home. I hope I’m wrong and that the project does progress into the lines of Westside, with housing also geared towards an “affordable” range and a place where future Gibraltarians can nurture their families, but from the artist impressions it’s looking unlikely.

What will we benefit then if that’s the case? A nice promenade to walk on? Overpriced coffee? Stores geared towards high cost furniture? More restaurants that will be dead from Mondays to Thursdays? I get it, we can’t afford to stand still either, we need to move and grow but we can’t afford to be constantly growing this “luxury” market where a select familiar few (you can find out who are behind the development by watching Jonathan’s Scott GBC report) will benefit whilst the rest are left behind because the true cost of all this is not in monetary value, it’s that we’ll be pushed out of our own home.

The press release goes on to mention:

It's envisaged that all parking and vehicular traffic in Victoria Keys will be below ground. This would allow for large pedestrianised and recreational areas on the ground level that would be open to the public. The plans include an extensive, waterfront promenade around the perimeter of the development, solely for use by pedestrians and cyclists.

That reminds me of something… just across the road, Commonwealth Park was developed and according to the GSLP 2011 manifesto, they were going to build an underground car park. In the end it was decided it was not “possible”. Just like how that 400 seater amphitheater that never made it into the final build… Was it not physically possible or did it come down to finance? How is it that now it will be possible to have everything underground? It’s not like we also have the greatest credibility in quickly building anything underground *cough runway cough.* #Shortly.

From an environmental aspect, it’s a bit hypocritical that on the 28th March an “Climate Emergency Motion” was announced by Government but then two weeks later, we get this announcement about reclaiming land and transporting 20+ year old rubble from one side of Gibraltar to the other… but hey, the target is to be carbon neutral by 2030 so anything goes in the next few years…

Looking at it positively, the idea of housing traffic and parking underground is great as this will allow us to finally embrace cycling lanes, electric scooters, electric car charging points and getting people to walk more. We have a long way to go before people embrace these alternative modes of transport and we’re lacking both in infrastructure and education throughout Gibraltar but seeing as this will be built from scratch, we should definitely be taking advantage of being able to do things differently. Another positive angle is that this development will no doubt bring jobs and economic growth, before, during and after construction, but again who truly benefits from selling off the land if you’re potentially driving the property market up to levels of unsustainability?

In the end, we may continue to grow but at what cost and to who’s benefit? A fancy video showing off nice looking buildings in a new marina is what it is, great eye candy, but what about the real problems? What about people on the housing list for years and those still waiting for news on affordable homes, a proverbial “sweet” which has been dangled in front of the electorate since 2015 with the original announcement of Hassan Centenary Terraces and Bob Peliza Mews. Since then things have changed and at least four different types of announcements with the promise of an extra estate thrown into the mix at Europort Avenue that came with a “re-announcement” of affordable homes in 2017. Since 2015, not a single foundation has been laid. The only light at the end of the tunnel is the promise of Hassan Centenary Terraces being built #Shortly, as yet again, expressions of interests went out at the end of 2018, with a deadline given of up to the 31st January for those interested and with nearly three months since the closing of the deadline, no one knows what to expect next nor when.

Why don’t we start looking a future developments differently, if we’re going to sell off land, ensure that developers have to abide by having to commit to build x number of affordable homes, be it in that area on another one? Or even, commit them to refurbishing existing Government stock in the upper town for example thus freeing up the housing list even further? Or the tons of locked up houses waiting to be refurbished before they’re able to accommodate a new tenant? (if anyone can hook me up with a list of all the Government owned rental stock, you’d be my best friend).

In the end, the balance is awfully skewed to one side and its time that the balance is evened out, drastically. Way too much land is going towards developments of “luxurious” nature and considering it’s already been four years since the “original” announcement of affordable homes, the working class Gibraltarian (and their children) are still stuck in limbo, whilst we keep selling off the little land we have to ensure millionaires and high net worth individuals can pay a steady annual tax rate despite of what they earn.