There are very few planning applications which are being objected to where the Gibraltar Development Plan (“the Plan”) is not referred to as a basis for either the acceptance or rejection of the planning application.
But what exactly is the Plan and what relevance and influence should it have on planning applications?
The Plan is a requirement under the Town Planning Act and the Plan’s self-described intention is “to guide land use planning in Gibraltar for the next ten years”. The Plan goes on to say that “The purpose of the Plan is to provide a clear framework for the future planning of Gibraltar and to provide certainty in how development should take place in the future”.
In other words the Plan is there to guide development in Gibraltar in the short and medium term and to inform anyone wishing to purchase or develop an area of land for whatever reason of the following; (1) whether they would be entitled to do so under the Plan and (2) what developments/works etc may be undertaken in the surrounding area in the next 10 years or so. This in theory should allow an owner/developer to make an informed decision as to whether his scheme will be affected in the short to medium term by other developments in the surrounding area.
By way of example, let us say that I decide to purchase a plot of land in order to construct my family home. Before purchasing the land I check the development plan and see that the whole of the surrounding area is only designated for residential development. Therefore I purchase the land in the knowledge that at least until the Plan is revised a developer cannot come along and purchase the adjacent land and get planning permission to build a night club or a factory because the Plan does not allocate the area for such use and therefore the DPC would reject such an application or would they?
As to what influence the Plan should have on planning applications the Plan states that “The Plan will therefore be an essential tool in development control and proposals will be expected to conform fully to the policies and proposals contained within it. As the Plan has been the subject of extensive public participation it must be seen as a plan that has the support of the community. Great weight will therefore be given to the contents of the Plan in determining applications and it is not expected that the policies and proposals contained within it shall be set aside without very significant reasons for doing so”
It is clear from this text that the Plan should have a great influence on the approval or otherwise of any planning application. This is indeed also the opinion of the Gibraltar Courts as outlined in the Judicial Review decision by Mr Justice Alcantara in which an application for the demolition of a building which had been approved by the DPC was overturned as it was “contrary to the City Plan”. This Judgment was issued back in 1986 but is in my view still good law.
Whether the Plan has such an influence in practice is a question for the DPC. Arguably there is a disparity between what the Plan and Courts are saying when compared to the Town Planning Act which simply states “Approved planning schemes shall be used by the Commission…as standards for guidance”. Some guidance on the influence or otherwise of the Plan through the new Town Planning Act could perhaps provide some much needed clarity on this issue, we shall wait and see.