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THE ISSUE: Saving land for the future

SHAWN CUMBERBATCH, [email protected]

THE ISSUE: Saving land for the future

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LAND USE HAS long been a controversial topic in Barbados. This is largely because the island is small but with a growing population that has competing property interests.

Land is needed for agriculture, housing, and business development. Barbados obviously is not able to expand in size, but neither are the authorities able to limit the appetite for land, including by foreign property buyers.

In such circumstances, proper planning is required. In Barbados’ case this done within the confines of a Physical Development Plan (PDP). Barbados’ first PDB came into force in the mid-1970s and is in the process of being updated.

But what is planning in the context of physical development and land use?

The Barbados Planning Society, which has existed since October 1968, defined planning as “the scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, resources, facilities and services with a view to securing the physical, economic and social efficiency, health and well-being of urban and rural communities”.

The state-owned Town & Country Development Planning Office has a team of planners and there are several private sector planners. As Barbados becomes more populated by people and buildings, planning for development has become even more important.

Some of the factors being considered included ensuring that land is available for future generations of Barbadians; carefully managing the use of coastal lands, especially in the context of increased climate change concerns; ensuring that agriculture is not a major loser in the battle for reduced land resources; and managing limited water resources. The fact that Barbados has a UNESCO World Heritage Site is another important consideration.

Speaking in January at the launch of his company’s annual real estate publication The Red Book, Terra Caribbean managing director Andrew Mallalieu reported a decline in the real estate market, including land values. The experienced real estate developer said with more land now available this might be a good sign for Barbados long term.

Mallalieu said low population growth the last 50 years and a decline in wealth creation among Barbadians were two factors that slowed local demand for real estate and the price.

The following month, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said tough decisions had to be made about how Barbados’ land was used.

He referred to a shortage of land locally and was concerned that land set aside for agriculture was being utilised for other purposes. Stuart said 30 000 acres of land was required for agriculture, but only 28 000 acres were available.

“Over the years, as the country has charted its socio-economic and environmental journey, it has gradually become necessary to utilise thousands of acres of agricultural land to facilitate development,” he said.

As part of efforts to amend the PDP, Government hired Toronto-based planning and urban design firm Urban Strategies Inc. (USI) to help formulate enhancements to the plan.

Speaking in late February during a town hall meeting to discuss the proposed changes, USI urban planner Anna Lannucci said said Barbados had a number of core assets but there were increasing levels of vulnerabilities, such as scarcity of land and water.

“Your pattern of growth has changed quite a bit and in a problematic way. You have a number of scarcities. You are a small island, you are a water- scarce island; you are a land-scarce island. And you are a food-scarce island and you have significant issues with agricultural land and food security,” she told the meeting.

As a result, Lannuci, who is helping Barbados focus on contemporary challenges to physical development and land use, including climate change, said the PDP should be seen as an opportunity for transformational change.

Commenting on its work with Barbados in a project outline on its website, UCI said Barbados would get “a completely new growth management and policy framework that addresses contemporary development pressures and issues of sustainability and environmental resource management while remaining accessible to professionals, land owners and the public”.

“The resulting development framework targets economic and suburban growth to preserve agricultural lands, waterways and island aquifers, reducing the need for desalinisation facilities and supporting sustainability goals, while creating new opportunities for tourism and related employment and economic development within the island economy,” it said.

Dominica is following in Barbados’ footsteps in establishing a formal land use policy. Having focused on this area since the 1970s, Barbados has a head start. The Dominica government, giving a rationale for establishing a formal policy, said there were dangers in having an ad hoc system of physical development.

“Several laws exist to ensure that land in Dominica is utilised properly; however, the multi-stakeholder nature of land utilisation and the lack of a comprehensive land use policy framework have resulted in: (a) confusion due to inconsistent laws on land utilisation; (b) continued negative environmental effect on land; and (c) conflicts among different sectors due to competing land uses such as agriculture, tourism, housing, forestry, commercial, industrial and the environment,” Dominica’s Physical Planning Division said.