Land swap fair exchange?
The relocation of B’s Recycling to Bagatelle, St Thomas, from Reece Road, Cane Garden, St Thomas, constitutes development pursuant to Section 13 of the Town And Country Planning Act, Cap. 240, and requires express planning permission. The Relocation Operation Plan referred to in the Cabinet paper apart from being unclear bears no relevance to the planning process. – Memorandum to the Ministry of the Environment from Chief Town Planner on June 4.
SEVERAL CONCERNS have been raised about the circumstances surrounding Government’s decision to exchange Crown lands on which the Bagatelle Disposal Facility, St Thomas, is sited for a portion or portions at River Bay, St Lucy, owned by the operators of a private recycling firm.
Not the least of those concerned has been the Chief Town Planner, who as required by law, should have been consulted before any agreement was reached on permitting the operation of a recycling facility at Bagatelle.
Understandably, the official Opposition, as is its right and duty, has also questioned the so-called land swap and has even threatened legal action to prevent its completion.
In his memorandum cited above, the Chief Town Planner referred to an extract from the minutes of a Cabinet meeting of March 8 at which it noted B’s Recycling’s interest in taking over the operations of the state-run Bagatelle Bulky Waste Facility at no cost to Government, and the offer of a suitable portion of land in River Bay to replace the land lost to Government by the proposed relocation of B’s Recycling to Bagatelle.
Cabinet agreed that Government should seek to enter an arrangement with B’s Recycling inter alia that:
• B’s Recycling should submit a Relocation Plan acceptable to the Ministry of Environment and Drainage and the Town Planning Department.
• B’s Recycling should come to an agreement with the Ministry of Housing and Lands on the transfer of a portion of land in the area of River Bay, St Lucy, of an acceptable size and location.
Apart from expressing his regret that the department had not been consulted prior to submission of the Cabinet paper, which he felt would have addressed some of the discrepancies that have now arisen, the Chief Town Planner noted: “Importantly, B’s Recycling has to submit a formal application to the Chief Town Planner requesting planning permission and should not commence any operations on site until said planning permission has been granted.”
Yet, we find that in a letter of June 28, the director of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) was asking the Chief Town Planner to investigate “unauthorized excavation activities” by B’s Recycling at Bagatelle.
“Officers of the Department, who visited the site on June 26, 2012, were informed that these activities were in preparation of creating space for the placement of compactor equipment. This proposed piece of equipment is likely to generate noise, vibrations and combustion products when in operation.
“Clearly, an environmental impact assessment is required for this operation, noting that the site is mainly residential and dust emanating as a result of these activities has impacted on neighbouring communities.
“Customarily, the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) submits an application prior to the commencement of excavation work. However, B’s Recycling continues to execute this work without the requisite planning permission.”
But before that, the Ministry of Housing had, by letter of May 17, granted the company a licence to move its assets onto the site under the following terms and conditions:
(a) The company be allowed to place and store its plant and equipment on the site;
(b) That no development of any nature be carried out by the company unless and until approved by the Chief Town Planner and any other regulatory authority;
(c) That any operation of moving equipment . . . onto the site while it remains the property of the Crown must be notified to and approved by the ministry;
(d) That the site be maintained in a tidy and sanitary manner;
(e) The company shall not create any public nuisance and shall indemnify and render the Crown harmless of any liability; and
(f) The company shall seek the specific written consent of the Ministry of Housing and Lands for the commencement of any development, operations and/or works of the business prior to the conveyance of the property to it.”
In the face of such clarity, one is moved to ask what could have given rise to the “discrepancies” so delicately referred to by the Chief Town Planner?
Now, let’s be clear: a private sector firm that is in the business of making profit is never going to engage in a swapping of property unless it stands to benefit.
The most curious thing about the proposed land swap, as I understand it, is that it started with an “exchange of the portion of land at River Bay for the lot at Fort Denmark” in Queen Street, Speightstown, St Peter.
A subsequent offer of an exchange of land at River Bay turned into “the entire River Bay lot comprising approximately 9.97 acres for the addition of the Bagatelle lot of 19.2 acres. The Bagatelle acquisition would facilitate the move of B’s Recycling from Cane Garden”.
The questions is: what would have been the initial motivation to exchange the infamous lot at Fort Denmark? That lot was, incidentally, the basis of a no-confidence motion in Parliament introduced by the then Leader of the Opposition Clyde Mascoll against Prime Minister Owen Arthur eight years ago.
Knowledgeable people are agreed that the location at Fort Denmark makes a perfect site for a tourism investment. What would, therefore, have been the size of the initial portion of land at River Bay that could compensate for this most attractive seafront property?
Within less than a month of the first request for an exchange of land, the River Bay principals indicated in another letter to the Ministry of Housing that they were aware of the ministry’s interest in acquiring the land at River Bay for use as a recreational area by the people of Barbados.
It was clearly now apparent to the principals that there was indeed a genuine opportunity for an exchange since both parties have a interest.
Indeed, given the interest expressed by Government in pursuing a green economy, in particular, and enhancing the environment in general, the exchange could now be justified beyond dollars and cents. There is now a purpose that makes the exchange easier to sell to the public and may be a win-win for the principals and the Government.
However, several issues have emerged from the proposals, including the relative sizes of the lots.
Since the lots are in two completely different locations and are used in different ways, the matter ought to be a fair exchange on the basis of value.
Further, it is known that the Bagatelle site contains a wealth of metal which is the business of B’s Recycling. Therefore, the land carries an intrinsic value in its bowels. That value, however, can only be realized if the metal is extracted, which becomes an issue for the environment around the Bagatelle site – an issue with respect to the future cost of bulky waste and an issue with respect to the future of the business being based on the price of metal and its impact on the project’s profitability.
Swap agreed on
So it was then that one month after the principal’s second letter, Cabinet agreed to enter into the land swap, and by the end of May, the chairman of the SSA had informed its manager that “Sanitation Service Authority operations at the said site ceases on 3rd June, 2012”.
Amazingly, for a Civil Service that has a reputation for inertia, it took less than five months between the principals’ request for an exchange of land and the EPD’s concern about “unauthorized excavation activities” at Bagatelle.
To my mind, the actions of B’s Recycling suggest that the project is extremely viable from the perspective of a businessman.
However, it is still necessary for the concerns of the Government departments to be addressed. It is also necessary that the initial exchange be transparent and follow the principle of fair value with respect to the lots.
Finally, there is one very important element of the political dimension, which is that Parliament must be fully informed since the transaction is tantamount to a land acquisition.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]