An open letter to the:
Planning and Development Authority
Minister of Economic Development, Planning, Tourism, ICT, Creative Economy, Agriculture and Lands, Fisheries and Cooperatives
Minister of Infrastructure and Physical Development, Public Utilities, Civil Aviation and Transportation
Mr.Kenrick Fullerton – Chairman
Mr. Kennie John – Director
Mr. Lennox Archibald – Director
Mr. Lachaba Joseph – Director
Mr. Phillip Alexander – Director
Mr. Christopher Whint – Director
Ms. Najar Andall – Director
Manager of NAWASA Appointee
Mr. Marlon Joseph – Executive Secretary to the Board
Mr Michael S W Stephen – Permanent Secretary wrf Infrastructure and Physical Development, Public Utilities, Civil Aviation and Transportation
Ms Nyasha Moore-Regis – CEO (Acting)
Hon Lennox Andrews – email@example.com
Hon Dennis Cornwall – firstname.lastname@example.org
Hon Dickon Mitchell – email@example.com
Dear Planning and Development Authority et al
The planning and development system has not been working. Proper and open procedures have not been followed in granting consent and rules have been bent.
The planning function has not been employed to achieve appropriate physical development supporting national development policy. This has led to a steady and uncontrolled erosion of our natural and cultural heritage, damaged the ‘Pure Grenada’ branding and resulted in the Planning and Development Authority being referred to the courts for judicial review on all the current major proposed hotel developments: Levera, La Sagesse, Mt Hartman and Coral Cove.
Judicial review asks the court to overrule a government decision because it was not made lawfully or properly.
With a new government administration there is now an opportunity to improve the way that planning is conducted. Here, we offer respectfully our views on what needs to be done.
We offer these as citizens concerned about raising the quality of our tourism product and preventing the physical despoliation of Grenada’s natural and cultural assets. In some cases, we are professionals in planning, economic development, tourism or environment.
Timely access to information on planning applications
A big part of the problem and why so many applications end up in judicial review is because there is no system that informs potentially interested and affected parties so that they may register their concerns in a timely fashion. They only hear about applications after planning consent has been given – and even then as a matter of chance.
Improvement is needed particularly where significant developments are concerned: hotels and tourism, multi-storey commercial and residential, all coastal development etc.
We suggest that the application system is made electronic and with the following attributes for significant developments:
- The Authority is obligated to inform directly any party who it is reasonable to assume may be interested in the effects of a proposed development including neighbouring land owners and occupiers, residence groups and associations and established environmental and conservation groups.
- The Authority requires the developer applicant to post weatherproof physical notices prominently on the site boundaries.
- Applications for major developments will be posted in the Gazette and in the weekly newspapers.
- Any party can register with PDA their interest in a specific potential development site and request to be informed if and when any development application is submitted.
- PDA defines a standard format for applications including design drawings and including an electronic version that is deposited in a drop box and is accessible by anyone online.
- Online enquiries using key words will be able to interrogate the electronic register of applications and identify any application relevant to anyone enquiring.
These functions are perfectly possible if the system is electronic.
The planning decision making process
There must be more relevant and transparent scrutiny of planning applications for major developments. The presumption that all development is good must be reversed so that applicants must be obliged to show that the gains outweigh the dis-benefits. At present it appears that the expertise of government ministries and departments (health, environment, climate etc.) is not given sufficient weight.
More community and external technical representation is required when considering major developments. PDA should be obliged to form a temporary committee of relevant external expertise to inform the evaluation – all knowledge about cultural heritage, the natural environment, contamination or social impact does not lie within the PDA Board and staff.
Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are required for major developments but are undertaken by consultants working directly for the developer. The result is often a compromised EIA that is more of a ‘sales pitch’ for the development than an objective assessment of the damages and dis-benefits it will cause or of the realistic prospects for effective mitigation measures where these are possible and could be made specific and measurable conditions of any planning consent given.
Instead, whilst developer applicants should pay the costs, the EIA should be commissioned by the PDA directly and the consultants undertaking the work should be provided with a clear objective brief.
Relevant government departments (public health, environment, climate, tourism etc.) should assist with providing input to EIAs not just reviewing them after they have been done as occurs presently.
A new additional requirement for the brief for an EIA should be the identification of suggestions for “planning gain” or community levy – community payback for the granting of consent. These could be required from the applicant as a condition of planning consent.
They might include, for example, planting of mangrove forests to protect against erosion, public road and sewerage improvements for neighbouring areas, wildlife conservation measures, training and qualifications for local people etc.
Monitoring of developments on site
Once planning consent is given there is insufficient monitoring to ensure that development is conforming with the conditions of the consent or to the building code. Convenient shortcuts by builders, damage to access roads or the natural environment, or violations of the time limits etc. are largely undetected by the Authority.
The monitoring function is critical and just as important as the granting of consent. It must be strengthened and serious action taken against violations.
Zoning for development
The Act (S. 10-15) requires the Authority to prepare or commission Physical Plans at local, regional and national levels. These have never been done but would cover the permitted uses for land to ensure the preservation of the coastline, beaches, natural habitat and the historic built environment.
Applications for consent to develop land must conform to these Physical Plans or they will not even be registered as applications.
Development is needed, of course, but only the right kind of development in the right places: where our infrastructure can support it and where it preserves the natural beauty of those parts of the island that still have it.
The Authority should fulfil its obligations under Part VI of the Physical Planning and Development Act 23, 2016 and particularly the establishment of the Natural and Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee to assist the Authority “function as the national service for the identification, protection, conservation and rehabilitation of the natural and cultural heritage of Grenada, in accordance with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, to which Grenada is a party”. (Act S. 38).
We recognise that this work is substantial and would require the Authority to commission paid (and voluntary) external professional expertise and that the process of consultation would be time consuming. But we believe that once the Natural and Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee is established, a start could be made on a broad national land use zoning plan, communities encouraged to prepare their own local plans for consideration as permitted under the Act, the designation of some key environmental protected areas, the listing and protection of historic buildings etc. and that these would then carry the force of the law.
The building code
The existing building code is vague and ambiguous and too much is left to the discretion and favouritism of the Authority and the influence that applicants are able to exert.
The building code is also out of date and needs revision and tightening up urgently. We suggest an ad hoc committee be formed to undertake this.
Resourcing the PDA
The PDA is seriously under resourced to do its job properly. We propose that applicant developers for major commercial schemes should be made to meet, in advance, the extra costs of improving the process. This includes a budget for commissioning an EIA, appointing external expertise in evaluating applications and for monitoring implementation.
Also, the application fees for bigger projects should be significantly raised: if a developer is claiming US$100m will be spent on a hotel project, there is no reason why it can’t pay EC$100,000 for an application fee – or more.
We hope that you will receive these suggestions in the spirit in which we submit them. We will be happy to present our views to you and to contribute to discussions and actions needed to implement progress on these issues.
Coral Cove Group