MH Bland recently announced that the Development & Planning Commission (DPC) had granted permission for the new Cable Car project to go ahead. The decision unlocks a multi-million-pound private investment in Gibraltar’s tourism sector.
MH Bland Deputy Chairman George Gaggero tells Insight why this development is so important for Gibraltar, especially for the local tourism industry.
“The concept of a cable car was dreamed up by my father early in 1960 when he visited Switzerland where he saw the early version of cable cars and subsequently brought the idea back to Gibraltar,” George Gaggero says. “At that period in time, locals had minimal access to the Upper Rock because what we now know as the nature reserve was military land, so he worked with the Ministry of Defence and the Government of the time and eventually got permission to build the cable car in 1962 and on the 1st April 1966 the cable car opened and was hailed as a great innovation for Gibraltar’s tourist product.”
The closure of the frontier in 1969 for fourteen years meant a loss of the potential tourism market, and George says that they struggled on until 1986 when they decided that the original cable car system had to be upgraded. “We overhauled the carriages and all the technical aspects, and it is now time to go through the same process again because at this point the actual buildings and structures are no longer fit for purpose because of the volumes of passengers that Gibraltar now handles with the advent of cruise liners and cross-frontier tourism.”
The new project will deliver a modern, environmentally-friendly tourist attraction fit for the 21st Century using swiss architects and engineers, known the world over for their expertise in building cable cars. Still, the building process will also generate local employment opportunities. Explaining that the demolition work will commence sometime between July and October 2021, George says that will start at the top of the Rock with the restaurant area. “We plan to build a temporary aerial ropeway down the east side; essentially it will be a cage, which will then allow us to send down all the rubble from the rest of the building so that we don’t use the road network which will still be used by coaches and taxis.”
“We are extremely conscious of the environment, and we want to minimise lorries going on the Upper Rock as much as possible,” George states. “Once the top station is demolished we will then bring the new building materials up by the cage, and although there will be a time when the cable car itself will continue to operate, all passengers will go straight into the nature reserve.”Eventually, the cable car will be demolished and the process of building the bottom station, installing the new carriages and towers, will take place with the whole process taking up to two years.
Technology has moved forward, and George states that the latest automated equipment will be put in. “Rather than having two arrival platforms, there will be a pioneering moving platform to accommodate each cable car which minimises the size of the footprint.”
“Solar panels will generate up to 75% of the energy that we require from renewable energy and the cable cars also generate energy by going up and down so we are going to capture that energy and convert it and that will allow us not only to power our own systems but to put energy back into the Gibraltar grid,” he confirms.
Elucidating on what this project means for MH Bland, George says that there is a huge legacy issue of which the company is extremely proud. “This is a project that my father started in the 1960s, and we are guardians of the name, the brand and the cable car product, and not to invest in the future would be irresponsible.” He goes on to say that the world had advanced enormously since the 1960s when his father had the cable car idea and that he doesn’t want his children or grandchildren looking back in fifty years asking why they hadn’t done this. “We are trying to futureproof it,” he states.
“Gibraltar has its traditional tourist product which is the apes and the caves, and we are constantly in contact with the tour operators, the cruise liner companies etc. who are always looking for something new,” George states. “It is much easier to promote a new vibrant product rather than the same old offering, and certainly when it comes to cruise line passengers, more than 60% of those passengers coming ashore have been here before.”The new cable car project is one that George says will raise the standard of the tourist product, not only in the tourist attractions but in hotels, restaurants, bars and gift shops. “We want to draw a higher level of clientele to Gibraltar and to do that we have got to offer them what those clients would expect in New York, Hong Kong, London, Paris or anywhere else –and we hope that by aiming and achieving high that others will follow our lead.”
“In granting permission for this project to proceed, Gibraltar is sending a message to the world that we are committed to investing in green and sustainable tourism. It is our responsibility not only to improve our product but to do so responsibly and sensitively.”