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Squatters forever

Albert Brandford

Squatters forever

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Squatting by necessity is in itself a political issue, therefore also a “statement” or rather a ‘response’ to the political systems causing it. – Wikipedia.
Just when you thought squatting on Government land in Barbados was the preserve of the poor and underprivileged, think again – the brazen rich do too.
That’s the conclusion of Auditor General Leigh Trotman, in his 2013 report, laid in the House of Assembly this past week.
Trotman published a special audit on the “illegal occupation of Crown lands” and concluded that the phenomenon was “extensive” and “expanding”.
He noted, for example, that “significant development by private individuals” had taken place on Crown lands at Six Men’s, St Peter without permission from the Ministry of Housing and the Town and Country Planning Department.
It was, he said, “a bold move” on the part of a company to occupy and develop land which it does not own.
Giving the background to the situation, Trotman recalled that in 2009, a private firm developed a marina on part of land (119 200 square metres) compulsorily acquired in 1997 by Government for housing at Six Men’s. The company informed the Ministry of Housing and Lands in 2011 that before commencement of the marina, it had reached an agreement with a family occupying the property to acquire a section of the land.
“The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Lands informed the company that the land was owned by the Crown but there was a Court of Appeal case against the Government by the former owners. The Permanent Secretary informed the company that subject to the favourable outcome of this case it would grant a licence for that portion of the compulsorily acquired lands it was occupying.
“The occupation and utilisation of land at Six Men’s, St Peter for a marina by the private developer is not in keeping with the public purpose for which it was compulsorily acquired . . . .
“It is quite a bold move by the company to occupy and develop land which it does not own.”
The special audit was to determine the extent of squatting on Crown lands, including highways, its overall impact, and the extent of the measures that have been taken against this activity.
The report noted that squatting has been a part of the Barbadian landscape for some time.
“It is estimated that there are hundreds of these illegal structures in a number of locations across the country,” it added. “The areas where squatting exists on Crown lands include the Belle, My Lord’s Hill; Howells + Ivy; Bath Tenantry, St John; Six Men’s, St Peter; and Licorish Village, St Michael. The amount of land squatters currently occupy has not been surveyed so there is no clear indication of the acreage occupied.”
In addition to the use of state land for housing, the report said, areas adjacent to highways were being used illegally for vending of bread, eggs, coconuts [and other items].
“This practice is growing and often impedes pedestrian passage along footpaths and sidewalks. It also encroaches on areas set aside for motorists to pull off the main carriageway when experiencing difficulty, or required to stop for an emergency. The use of sidewalks and carriageways to sell items is contrary to the Highway Act, Cap 289 and these areas should not be used unless there has been permission obtained from the Chief Technical Officer in the Ministry of Transport and Works.”
It was pointed out that when people illegally occupied Crown lands, it was the responsibility of the Ministry of Housing to ensure that the squatters were informed and removed “as expeditiously as possible”.
One of the Auditor General’s concerns was the lack of activity to remove squatters, which he felt was influenced by several factors, among them, that the Chief Town Planner was constrained by Section 25 (8) of the Town and Country Planning Act, Cap.240 in serving enforcement notices on the owner of the land and the occupier for erecting structures without planning permission.
The Chief Town Planner responded: “The CTP has never allowed Section 25 (8) of the act to prevent the execution of an enforcement notice especially where sensitive areas are under threat. However in some instances where enforcement notices have been served on Occupiers Without Title (OWT) there has been intervention by the political directorate not to enforce the notices.” (My emphasis).
Trotman was concerned too, that squatters were being assisted by state agencies: as in the provision of water to Belle residents and upgrades to housing units and toilet facilities.
Seems as though like the poor, squatters will always be with us.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]