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THE ISSUE: Time is money

Shawn Cumberbatch

THE ISSUE: Time is money

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To what extent are delayed town planning decisions affecting the faciltiation of business in Barbados?

Getting improved business facilitation in Barbados continues to be an area of concern for the private sector. And one of the key areas where criticism has persisted is the time it takes the Town and Country Development Planning Office to process applications and make decisions.

Such concerns were raised again last week when the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) held a seminar on town planning in collaboration with the planning department and local company Mahy Ridley Hazzard Engineers.

Even before the closed door session got fully underway, veteran architect Mark Hiorns of Architect Mark Hiorns Incorporated complained about delays related to a project he was involved in.

“At this stage, with the economy as it is, I am very concerned because my client has expressed an interest to get started in April next year.

“Things change and in two years things can change dramatically and people can change their minds about projects they want to do.

“Opportunities can be lost and I really feel that the process needs to be addressed urgently,” Hiorns said in comments directed to deputy chief town planner George Browne.

He added: “The delay is my main concern because we can’t afford to hang around. The cost of the project is in the region of $8 million to $10 million in construction costs.

“It would employ subcontractors, and there would be items manufactured and brought to the site. It would employ close to 100 employees working for a period of about a year and a half. The client has the money and is anxious to get started. It will provide foreign exchange.”

Hiorns displayed anxiety that has been exhibited by other small and large developers in Barbados over the last few years.

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who has ultimate responsibility for town planning matters, acknowledged the difficulties at a BCCI lunch in January 2011, an occasion when he promised to examine the planning department’s operations.

However, he also said: “The interest of a potential investor and that of the Government as an institution, there’s always the wider public interest to consider.

“Not all contemplated investor pursuits are necessary or obviously in the short – or medium ­– or long-term interests of the public.

“Applications must of necessity, therefore, be subjected to critical and unbiased scrutiny, if the public’s interests are not going to be compromised. Delays result inevitably.”

So what is the solution? Long-standing engineer Gregory Hazzard, director of Mahy Ridley Hazzard Engineers, said the first step required to improve the planning department’s effectiveness was getting more funding from the Ministry of Finance.

This was in addition to having “a dedicated section for Government projects”, funding posts in other Government agencies “to focus on planning applications”, phasing approvals to reduce the cost of preparing planning applications, and varying from 28 days the time permitted to submit additional information.

“Establish additional zones where developers will clearly understand what is pre-approved and what won’t be allowed before starting an application,” he also advised.