THE environmental impact assessment for the Eastside Development is a vast document which, when you include full-size architectural drawings, easily covers a boardroom table in the office of the Town Planner where it is open to scrutiny.
The study, prepared by specialist consultant Halcrow, is bound in several thick files and runs into hundreds of pages, covering everything from the impact of the project on the land and marine environment, to its broader social and economic implications.
This is a hugely important document for Gibraltar. It probes in fine detail every aspect of a multi-million project that will radically transform the undeveloped east side of the Rock.
The deal for the Eastside Development was finalised just before Christmas last year and the project was filed with the Development and Planning Commission [DPC] and opened to public consultation.
In broad terms the study concluded that the construction phase would have significant negative impacts on the physical environment of the area.
There are several significant issues that will need to be mitigated against, not least the possible presence of toxic substances in building rubble dumped at the site over two decades. The possible presence of these toxic substances will require special handling as is currently done for asbestos.
The study also said that all of these issues can be addressed through thorough forward planning and that the Eastside Development will be of important long-term benefit
The project envisages construction of residential, hotel, marina and leisure facilities on reclaimed land between Catalan Bay and Eastern Beach.
The developers have already paid premiums in excess of £30m to the Gibraltar Government and will pay at least a further £70m.
Inevitably, it will not be to everyone’s taste: gone will be the sleepy nature of the area, replaced with tall luxury blocks and marina facilities akin to what is on offer north along the Mediterranean coast in Spain.
But there can be no denying that once complete, it will provide a major boost to the local economy.
Once it is up and running, the development is expected to directly create 2,400 hotel, office and retail jobs, with up to 1,700 further jobs created through knock-on effects in other sectors of business.
The Eastside Development is just one of a number of major projects that will be constructed simultaneously over the coming years.
These include the Eastside Development, the Mid Town Development, the airport terminal and road, the affordable housing schemes, the new rental housing estate, a new power station to replace all the existing old ones, a sewage treatment plant, and a new prison.
The work will impact on life in Gibraltar in a major way, something that was recognised by Chief Minister Peter Caruana earlier this year.
“Many of these major projects, including the refurbishment of Europa Point, get underway this year, and during the construction phase we will all be subjected to varying degrees of inconvenience and discomfort,” he said in his New Year message.
“But their value to Gibraltar and our future prosperity are well worth our making these sacrifices for the benefit of future generations, just as past generations made for us.”
The Government recently published a new development plan for Gibraltar that aims to coordinate development policies over the coming years.
It has also made the planning process more transparent than it was in the past, opening all applications to public consultation.
However, the scale of the Eastside Development EIA has left some members of the public feeling that the present system falls short of the mark.
The Environmental Safety Group, faced with digesting the mammoth document – and somewhat shorter, though nonetheless meaty documents relating to the airport terminal and road – expressed serious misgivings.
“Large projects of this type should receive longer scrutiny from the public,” it said.
“The impacts from such large scale operations justify open discussion to give the public the opportunity to raise concerns and ask questions directly of developers, engineers and decision makers.”
The existing 21-day consultation period, the group added, was insufficient time to digest these documents and prepare a well-thought out response that would properly contribute to the planning process.
“The ESG hopes that the Government will reopen the consultation period for both the airport/road and Eastside project and arrange for public meetings to enable fuller participation on projects which are radically transforming Gibraltar’s landscape,” the ESG said.
“With the assessments for large projects running concurrently this must also stretch those tasked with judging the full impacts from the projects and may not produce the best outcome for Gibraltar and the environment.”
In its election manifesto, the GSD promised further improvements to the planning process, including allowing minor projects to be assessed without ministerial involvement in order to speed up the process.
Major developments will be considered by the full DPC, but the DPC must issue a statement in each case notifying its decision and the reasons wherefore.
All major developments above a certain size or of exceptional impact or significance will, in addition to DPC approval, require the approval of the Parliament.