The original City of Gibraltar included the areas within the walls of the Moorish Castle and the land immediately below, around Crutchett’s Ramp, built in the 12th century. Those were in the days when Casemates Square was a beach.
The town extended in the 14th century to include much of today’s Main Street (albeit this name was not officially given to the entire street until 1913). John Crutchett purchased a property in the area in 1751 and his name has been attached to that street ever since.
The name of each street is stooped in history. Irish Town was most likely named after an Irish Regiment which was barracked there. Cooperage Lane contained the Royal Navy’s storehouses and also a cooperage for making and repairing the casks in which drinking water was stored aboard a ship. This gave the lane its name. Parliament Lane apparently hails from the fact that the Freemasons used to hold their meetings (‘parliament’) there. College Lane used to host a school. Engineer’s Lane became known as such because the commander of the Royal Engineers had his residence in the street. This heritage goes on (see ‘The Streets of Gibraltar’ by Tito Benady’).
Gibraltar’s town centre and upper town area are the oldest residential areas in Gibraltar and continue to house a significant part of the population as it has done for centuries.
My own personal knowledge of the area dates to 2002 when I moved to Gibraltar. At this time, the town centre from first floor up was predominantly residential. Despite the lack of parking, it was the proximity to all of the amenities, and the relatively modest cost of accommodation which ensured that living ‘in town’ was popular amongst all sectors. Plus of course, offspring of local families who had been brought up in town, stayed in town.
But then there followed a ten year change. With the launch of Ocean Village, Kings Wharf, Anchorage, Tradewinds, and Filomena House in the open market, plus the array of new estates built for the local three year residency rule market, the town centre lost its attraction to many as the alternatives had greater appeal.
At the same time, the availability of office space was dwindling as the finance and gaming sectors expanded. Landlords of empty properties around the town applied for change of use and what was previously residential, was converted into office accommodation in order to attract tenants. Look above Galaxy, Top Shop, BHS Home, all office accommodation. There are many other examples. Irish Town also has an array of relatively modern office accommodation, converted from residential. 62-64 Irish Town even won a Heritage Award a few years ago for the quality of its conversion. However, I sense the tide is now turning back. Casemates is not going back to a beach, but, residential is back en vogue in the old town.
Finally, after years of minimal new supply, developers are building new office space just as they built new residential accommodation a few years ago. Both the World Trade Center and Midtown are under construction, creating some 26,000 sq m of new space in the next couple of years. Midtown phase two could add a further 7,000 sq m and Victory Place a further 8,000 sq m.
What is now in chronic short supply is rental residential accommodation at an affordable level in the open market. Such is the shortage of residential rental stock that anything below £1,200 per calendar month is snapped up within days, sometimes hours, of it becoming available.
Property owners will recognise this shift, the reverse of what happened in the last 5 – 10 years. Once these new modern offices become available in the next couple of years, there will be an exodus from the town centre leaving empty offices in the short term. So with the excess demand for cheaper residential property and the new wave of office accommodation, I anticipate the next tranche of refurbishments to create new residential stock. Indeed, first out of the blocks and new to the market this month is the refurbished residential property above what was the Norwich and Peterborough Building. With five separate new looking units now available from Chesterton between £650 pcm and £1,600 pcm, the entire building should let quickly.
Others properties will follow and investors are now seeking older buildings which could be converted or simply refurbished into residential accommodation.
However, buyer beware. The idea sounds simple but it isn’t always that easy. Access to much of the town and upper town areas is often only possible with the smallest of vehicles, in some places perhaps just a wheelbarrow! That piles on the cost of undertaking any works. Utility connections can be difficult as there is not always an abundance of connections which can be tapped into when creating properties with many new bathrooms and much needed communication and power cables.
Damp is always an ongoing concern with many developers hoping to knock down and rebuild properties, as sometimes this plan can be cheaper than refurbishment. However, the heritage we have in this area needs preserving and it is unusual for consent to be given for complete knock downs. Indeed, it is a usual requirement for the façade to be restored which adds further cost.
And then there is the Landlord & Tenant Act which allows for a number of regulated and rent controlled tenancies. Whatever the morality behind the intent, the economic result is that it is often simply not worth the landlord maintaining the building in which there are tenants paying not much more than a peppercorn. This leaves many buildings in a shambolic state. Indeed, many tenants live in accommodation in which a hard hat might be appropriate.
The town area is a complex area for property development so investors should go in eyes wide open. But I expect history will show that it will remain a popular residential area for generations to come.
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