Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Derelict buildings increase fear factor

Many people particularly those residing in the upper and old town area have become not only concerned, but increasingly critical with the growing number of abandoned and distressed residential properties, including the threat this poses to public peace, health, and safety, particularly to the people living in the area.

However this issue has progressively become worse and has escalated, creating a certain amount of anxiety amongst residents of the Upper Town Area…A series of fires of late in various derelict buildings, the recent discovery of a dead body in another abandoned property and at least 4 different Arson attacks over the weekend has raised the fear factor amongst many people!

The issue was highlighted at the weekend with the large fire at Road to the Lines which saw over 50 flats that had to be evacuated, two of the flats were completely destroyed. Reports also suggest that a man has already been arrested by the RGP for arson in connection with the weekend’s incidents which appear to be connected.

Buildings Left to Deteriorate For Years

Many people are also questioning the level of management of these unoccupied and derelict buildings. Properties that people feel have been left to deteriorate for years, in some cases, to dangerous levels.

Although it is true to say that this problem has not suddenly appeared overnight, as the state and management of derelict properties especially in the upper town area is an issue that has stirred great debate and public criticism in the past, particularly during the last government’s term in office.

Public Safety Jeopardised!

There are occasions when public safety may become jeopardised by the condition of buildings. By their very nature, abandoned or derelict places are often unsafe, either in structure or environment, which is why sometimes they're best observed from a distance, but this is not always the case for inquisitive, desperate or criminal minds of this world.

Personally I believe it’s a tragedy that many of these old buildings have been neglected for countless years and now lie derelict. They are an eyesore and, in many cases, dangerous, because if structures are not kept up, they also become vulnerable to collapse, and as we know already, they are a serious fire hazard…particularly to neighboring residential buildings.

People Genuinely Concerned

I have spoken to a number of people in the area in question who mostly share the same concern…that ‘anyone of these derelict properties can easily be occupied by a vagrant or homeless person or entered into by anyone else for any other criminal motive in mind. Also that anyone of the many derelict properties scattered around, has the potential to cause some human catastrophe to whole family’s residing in the area, this if a fire or an arson attack is not discovered in time’

I was told that numerous derelict buildings still remain open with easy access to such unwelcomed guest, particularly in the upper town area and this, after people say they have informed the pertinent government department of the dangers.

I took a walk round the Upper Town to see for myself.

I have to say it’s true, that many buildings remain abandoned and derelict which really is no secret. Although what is concerning particularly under the present climate regarding public concern and the current spate of fires, is that I discovered quite a few derelict government properties wide open and others with very easy access.

At the old and abandoned Police Barracks… doors to individual flats were open giving access to numerous properties. Having lived at one time in these barracks for many years, I know how easy it is to gain access to first floor landings without much of an effort, although the state of the building now, makes it less-effortless.

At a block of small flats just below the Old St Bernard’s Maternity Wing… it was even easier - doors were wide open to the building. I walked round this set of flats, no problem. There were clear signs of people having taken up unofficial residence at some point…as photos clearly illustrate.

There also appeared to be easy access to a building at Lower Castle Road… where mail boxes had been ripped open exposing someone’s or the previous owners mail, it looked a similar situation to other places I visited.

Dangerous and Unsightly Upper Town Buildings

As one walks through many parts of Gibraltar one is struck both by the beauty of many of the buildings around the rock and the unsightliness of many others. It now appears to be quite a cliché to say that the Upper and Old Town Area and its environs are ugly and unworthy of Gibraltar’s affluent life style.

A walk down to the Town Area or the Westside area of Gibraltar where there are many new buildings that are elegant, well-maintained and worthy to be proud of. Some are owned by the government and others are in private ownership. This sadly is the striking difference (with the upper town) that should never been allowed to happen!

Frankly buildings left abandoned or derelict are not only ugly to look at, but demeaning of the beauty of place like Gibraltar. They do however as we know; have the potential to pose a threat to people living in the area and to innocent passers-bys.

If I had to suggest anything on this matter before ending, it would have to be that someone comes up with a ‘management of derelict building programme’ before an incident that causes serious injury or innocent loss of life actually occurs.

Leo Olivero

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