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Our Planning System - Part 3

Published Thursday 23rd September 2004


Our drainage system is clearly inadequate as lower French Street, Woodbrook, becomes a virtual pool after one hour of continuous rainfall.

A pedestrian tries to reach the NP service station on Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain after mid-afternoon showers on Friday.
Photos: David Wears

This week we conclude our look at our planning system and its impact on property values here. The practice of planning involves researching the past and selecting acceptable forms of development and land use.

When we consider that permission to develop one’s property is a valuable legal right, we can see that planning is an exercise in the allocation of a scarce resource.

That resource is the development right. The allocation of these can have effects in several ways.

The first of these ways is that the proposed development/s could have an effect on the existing land users by changing their amenity, privacy or exclusivity.

Another consideration is that every development—housing, commercial, offices or industrial—we permit today inevitably reduces the land area and options for future generations.

As we stated earlier in the series, proper land-use planning requires that a balance be struck between competing stakeholders—those who have already developed, those who want to develop now and of course, those who are not yet here with us.

Next week we consider the lessons of the Queen’s Park Savannah.

Long-term planning issues to consider

  • Alienation of agricultural lands

When we permit building on prime agricultural lands, those lands have forever lost their role as sources of food.

We can describe these lands as having been alienated from their original use. This is what has happened at Valsayn, Diamond Vale and River Estate. With the flat land in the Diego Martin/Petit Valley district almost completely built over, we are now seeing the loss of agricultural lands in Santa Cruz, Aranguez and Maracas/St Joseph. There is also continuing concern over the future use of the former Caroni lands.

It is in the interest of our food security and especially that of our future generations that we develop a policy to prohibit alienation of good quality agricultural lands.

It is true that our agricultural sector is at a low point and that we are now wealthy enough to buy what food we want.

But it is prudent to plan for an uncertain future—after all, our children may not have the kind of wealth and choices we now enjoy.

The destruction and disruption wrought by Hurricane Ivan to some of our food suppliers is just one example of the possibilities.

  • Flooding

Returning again to the weather, it is now clear that our drainage system is inadequate.

On August 18, we had less than an hour’s continuous rain and most of PoS was flooded out and there were a lot of traffic jams.

Of course, we also have perennial flooding in Central Trinidad, parts of St James and Cocorite in PoS, to name a few areas.

Imagine what would have been the position if another emergency occurred during the floods on the same day. Our ambulances, fire engines and police would simply have been paralysed, like the rest of us, in that incredible traffic jam.

Or, even worse, what would be the position if we ever have several days of heavy rainfall? That risk to the nation’s well-being is unacceptable and we need to take steps now to prevent the inevitable tragedy.

We have already had a nearby warning in the tragic December 1999 floods in Venezuela in which 10,000 lives were reported lost.

For a start, we need to prevent the unrestricted clearing of hillsides and make the planting of mature trees a condition of that kind of development.

  • Revocation & modification

It is a common assumption that planning permission is somehow permanent, like buying a freehold property.

We are all familiar with cases in which travel along some unavoidable road to our destination is slowed to a crawl by the traffic caused by some successful business.

The paradox can be complete in that the success of the “offending” business may be due largely to its location and many of us who complain when inconvenienced are ourselves customers of those very establishments.

As mentioned earlier in the series, we need to determine the impact of those land uses on the road users and decide make choices based on the public interest.

We had suggested in the first of the series that certain businesses be required to provide more carparking to ease some of the pressure on the roads, but it may sometimes be necessary to go further.

The law permits the revocation or modification of planning permissions to either impose new conditions (like more parking/loading facilities) or the withdrawal of the planning permission. Although there is scope for compensating the landowner if these measures are applied, the provisions are ineffective in the case of completed projects and these need to be revised to properly address these growing issues

  • Unauthorised development

Finally, we come to the thorny question: can we achieve a national consensus that unauthorised development and changes in land use are not in our collective interest?

Can we muster the political will to make this change? Let us be clear that this challenge is not principally for our political parties but with our business organisations, well-known for their vocal law-and-order stance in many other areas.

Do the various chambers, rotaries and others of that ilk have the will to engage these pressing questions?

Will it take tragedy on a Venezuelan scale to bring the necessary change of minds?

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

This week we conclude our look at our planning system and its impact on property values here.