ON THE LEFT: Land policy key to equity
THERE IS NOT a lot of published literature about land governance in Barbados and, other than in the context of business facilitation, it is not referred to in Government and donor strategy documents.
Property taxes are a small share of total Government revenue, and property tax collection is low compared to its potential. Although researchers cite Barbados as an example of a well performing land market, there are areas that require attention. Preventing further degradation and creating incentives for restoration could require improved land governance.
The need for planning to contain urban sprawl and protect the natural and built environments has long been raised as a concern. In response, the 2003 Physical Development Plan amendment has adopted the term urban corridor which has been identified as occupying the coastal areas of the island from the northwest to the southeast. This area encompass the northwest urban centres of Speightstown and Holetown, the growing area of urbanisation at Warrens, the capital city of Bridgetown in the west, the town at Oistins and onward to the airport to the southeast.
This area correlates to the main commercial and tourism belt with the associated in between residential land use activities. The urban corridor was developed to facilitate the limit of urban expansion and provides for better control on rate of expansion and delivery of public policy within the urban area.
Barbados faces challenges of competing land uses at the nexus of rural and urban areas. Presently, the largest share of land is zoned for agriculture, justified in part based on food security policy. Still, conversions are significantly reducing the amount of land available for farming.
Land use and demand do not appear to be aligned. In some cases, converted plots are unused while land for productive investment in farming cannot be found. Conversely, family land still zoned for agriculture cannot be put into housing development formally with ease. Nor can family land be used as collateral, which might limit the ability to build on it. Emigrants buy land with the intent to return, yet many do not actually return, and the land sometimes lies vacant for 15 to 20 years.
Barbados’ current strategy emphasises the need to reduce inequality and sustain social services. Barbados has a long tradition of social housing provision by the National Housing Development Corporation, dating as far back as 1936, under a variety of different names; in 1972 it became the National Housing Corporation.
Inefficiency in land transactions and in access to current and complete land information is relevant to Barbados’ urban development agenda. However, these issues do not draw attention – rather, the extra costs and time implications or information constraints for planning that result have become more like background noise.
Beyond these basic issues, transparency in concessions is an issue related to tourism development. Beliefs that foreign investors are treated preferentially rather than incentivising the growth of local tourism enterprises, low income housing being built at very high costs without a rationale, and other hints of unfair and inconsistent practices appear in the news.
Improved data on land markets, especially if transparently available, could help reduce overpayment and create greater transparency.
This information was published in a Barbados Land Governance And Urbanisation Brief authored by Jolyne Sanjak Michael G. Donovan of the Inter-American Development Bank.