Gibraltar’s landfill policy under fire

Spanish environmental groups oppose development project that threatens local marine ecosystem

Landfill work underway on the Gibraltar coast.
Landfill work underway on the Gibraltar coast.Andrés Carrasco

Gibraltar is continuing to expand its territory through landfills in a marine conservation area. So say environmental groups, who have reported the government of Fabian Picardo to the European Union.

Verdemar-Ecologists in Action accuse the Gibraltarian authorities of "breaching natural habitats, fauna and flora" in the eastern end of the British Overseas Territory, close to the La Caleta beach, an area that the EU has declared part of its Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

Gibraltar's Eastside Development was announced in 2005, and hailed as the largest inward investment in the jurisdiction's history. The 1.5-billion-euro project, built on reclaimed land between Eastern Beach and Catalan Bay, involves 2,200 apartments; underground car parks; a 300-boat marina with a boutique cruise liner berth and terminal; a 300-bedroom four-star hotel; and retail, commercial and office accommodation. It will involve renewal of the area's infrastructure, such as electricity generation and sewerage systems. The idea is to generate local employment through maintenance and repair of yachts, and by servicing cruise liners stopping over.

"Gibraltar is carrying out landfill using aggregates, some of them containing contaminated materials, in the sandbanks that are permanently covered with shallow sea water," says Antonio Muñoz of Verdemar-Ecologists in Action. He says that the area contains important reserves of shellfish and other marine species, as well as being a breeding ground for dolphins.

Environmental groups have been protesting about Gibraltar's landfill policy for decades

Environmental groups and the neighboring community of La Linea have been protesting about Gibraltar's landfill policy for the best part of two decades, but have been unable to halt the process. In November last year, the EU dismissed a complaint issued by the mayor of La Linea that the development had a "significant trans-boundary effect on protected areas in Spanish territory."

This time, the agriculture ministry has joined the fray. In early June, it issued a statement about landfills, saying: "We are aware of the situation and have declared this area a Special Conservation Zone to establish environmental limits. The ministry, along with foreign affairs, is interested in blocking these practices, and if necessary will take the matter to the European Court."

The authorities in Gibraltar have not commented on this latest turn of events, although the local media have pointed out that Spanish environmentalist groups have little to say about the landfill and reclamation work carried out in the nearby port of Algeciras or in the private marina in La Linea.

Opposition to the Eastside Development is not limited to Spain. There have been complaints about a lack of transparency in taking the project forward, as well as concerns that the landfill is using contaminated material, and that it will not deliver on job creation or do much to stimulate the local economy.

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