Sunday, March 3, 2024

The power to stimulate growth


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Last month longstanding registered architect Mark Hiorns voiced concern about the length of time it took the Town and Country Development Planning office to process applications. He raised the issue during a town planning seminar hosted by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry in partnership with Riley Hazzard Engineers Limited.

This week, Hiorns elaborates on his concerns.

Having worked in Barbados for 35 years, I have built a good relationship with The Town and Country Development Planning Office (TCDPO) and have generally found the staff to be helpful and friendly.

Applications for normal inland domestic and commercial projects have been processed in a timely manner. However, applications that I have submitted for projects on the sea side, (either cliff or beach) have on average taken two years to process.

The application referred to at the seminar is a sea side property with a low cliff. I had advised my client (at the risk of losing him) that this type of application would typically take up to two years to process, but that I had been advised at the front desk of the TCDPO, that in view of the recession, the process was being speeded up.

It came as a shock to both of us, when after making the submission in a satisfactory manner, a request from TCDPO was received six months later for a geotechnical report, full engineering drawings, and a topographical survey. Apart from the extra cost (amounting to approximately $35 000 in consultant fees) the report, and engineers drawings took about three months to complete. During this time the TCDPO process was on hold.

I have subsequently been advised that I could have arranged for a preliminary meeting with a senior planning officer, who would have been able to advise on the possible need for specialist consultants as requested above. I also understand that most applications that start off that way tend to move through with less delays. In my own defence, I did seek early assistance at the front desk, but, sadly, was not advised to seek a preliminary meeting based on the nature of the application.

I know that the planning process has been an issue with many applicants and that time is of the essence. At this time in our faltering economy, and with issues such as unemployment and lack of foreign exchange, there needs to be much attention paid to ways in which to stimulate growth.

The construction industry employs a large percentage of the working population. Not just builders, but suppliers, (appliances, air conditioners, imported products) quarries, hardware stores, local manufacturers (doors, windows, kitchen furniture, etc.) specialist subcontractors (plumbers, electricians, solar panels, interior specialists, landscapers, swimming pool builders, etc) and this list goes on.

I think that the TCDPO is in a good position right now to assess the number of projects being processed with regard to employment potential and local purchasing. If these projects are to be fast-tracked, the owners and agents of these projects need to be engaged by TCDPO in order to resolve any outstanding planning issues that may be causing delays and establish a timeline for the start AND COMPLETION of the project.

I would like to take this opportunity to refer to another important issue which impacts all Barbadians and visitors alike. The issue of uncompleted and derelict seafront properties.  Part V of the Town and Country Planning Act Cap 240 states that the Chief Town Planner may serve an enforcement notice if in his opinion a breach of planning control has occurred. The act also states that notice must be served within four years of the breach. Unfortunately the act doesn’t appear to refer specifically to non-completion of a project or the unlimited use of site hoardings.

Right now I can think of several properties as follows; Harlequin in Rockley, Caribbee in Hasting, Beachlands in Holetown, the former Chefette site in Holetown, the Regency in Holetown, and the former Paradise Beach (better known as Four Seasons) in St. Michael. Each of these is fenced off with 12-foot high plywood hoardings, and has robbed Barbadians of views and sunsets, (particularly in Holetown) and access to the beach. Most of these hoardings have been erected very close to the edge of the road thereby obliterating the sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk in the road.

Part of this issue is the Building Start loophole. It would appear that once the Building Start notice has been submitted and a small amount of work has started, the project can be stalled indefinitely, while the planning approval remains in effect indefinitely instead of expiring after five years as in the case of projects not started. This means the hoardings remain indefinitely creating a depressing no-go area, filled with bush, mosquitoes, rats, and vagrants.

These depressing locations are now part of the Barbadian tourism product. Visitors are sending home photos and reports of these properties and I am constantly aware of this particularly in my own stomping ground, the new and wonderful South Coast beaches and boardwalk.

Given that the overall physical development of Barbados is primarily for the benefit of Barbadians and the well-being of their environment, it is essential that all Barbadians pay attention when issues arise and try to develop a healthy working relationship with the TCDPO. The officers are there not only to process applications, but to keep the public and the applicants (and their agents) informed of all new developments and requirements.

It appears to me that the Government of Barbados needs to tackle these issues by making amendments to the Planning Act so that the TCDPO can exercise the controls required in today’s economy. It should not be possible for a foreign developer (or local) to be able to purchase a large sensitive location, such as beachfront, without a bond, or some kind of legal commitment to complete the project in a satisfactory manner. Failure to complete should require the developer to take suitable action to resolve the problem. For example, if the developer goes bankrupt, the project may be sold within a specified time period by public auction. In other cases there may be justification for a government issued compulsory purchase order so that the property can be turned over to public use, for example, a landscaped park with beachfront and parking.

However the outcome, it should always be remembered that planning controls should always be for the good of the public and their immediate environment.

Mark Hiorns is a registered architect and director of Architect Mark Hiorns Incorporated.



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