EDITORIAL: Time to bring squatting issue to resolution
Squatting has never been so big a problem in Barbados that it has generated major debate.
In fact, except for fears over the health and safety of illegal residents in Oldbury, St Philip, on what used to be a landfill, and perhaps more widespread concern over the potential negative impact of people who have built on the Zone 1 water table in The Belle, St Michael, Barbadians hardly give a second thought to the issue.
In recent weeks, however, the subject returned to the national agenda as a result of a statement by Minister of Housing and Lands Denis Kellman following expressions of anger by residents of Six Men’s, St Peter, over excavation work by owners of Port Ferdinand Marina within feet of their homes.
These residents questioned the decision to grant permission to the marina for this work, and in response Kellman noted that while the Port Ferdinand operators had approval, the residents did not since they were all squatters. Reacting to Kellman, however, veteran Member of Parliament for the area and former Prime Minister Owen Arthur explained that the residents should be treated better since the land had long been acquired by the Crown for the sole purpose of regularising their status. He called on the current Government to complete the process so the residents could purchase the land.
Unlike The Belle, where residential buildings pose a serious potential threat to a significant portion of the island’s potable water supply, and Oldbury, where the fear is for the safety of the residents themselves because the normal emission of gases from a closed landfill can pose problems, there are no such challenges at Six Men’s.
Generations of Barbadians have grown up in this seaside village, perhaps with no idea that they were squatting, and the decision of the former Government to acquire the land – which residents would not have been able to afford at market value – was the right thing to do.
We agree with Mr Arthur that it is the Government’s duty to, rather than seeking to minimise the status of the residents, put in place the mechanisms so they can become legitimate owners.
But we also hold the view that while it would be wrong to give people the impression they can build where they like and then expect the state to “make things right”, the situation with the folks at Oldbury and areas of The Belle have been in play for so long it’s time to bring them to a head.
We don’t see how so many scores of homes can now be removed from that Zone 1 area after they have been allowed to establish over decades, so Government needs to implement a solution. The much talked about sewerage treatment plant needs to become a reality before we realise our worst fears with our drinking water.
At the same time, there should be zero tolerance of any attempt at new construction.
On the matter of Oldbury, we don’t know that there is any technology existing anywhere that can remove the risks associated with living on a closed landfill. Structured venting and even capturing of the gases may help, but our understanding is that there will always be risks.
Additionally, the state’s liability may also be increased if it decides to move in and construct roads and provide services to the householders. Some may say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” – leave the resident to exist at their own risk. But the ill effect of any contamination may not show up for a generation or two, and one way or the other the state will pay.
Perhaps it would be in the country’s best interest to employ appropriate experts to assess the level of risk and then act based on the findings.