The New Today

Letters

An open letter to our new government about tourism and physical development

We need an urgent, objective review of all the major tourism developments: at least Kawana Bay, Levera, La Sagesse, Mt Hartman and Coral Cove. They are all in court for one reason or another: Kawana Bay is subject to a contractual dispute between the last government and the developer and the others are subject to judicial review (claims that government has acted illegally or improperly in giving them planning consent).

A solution to Kawana Bay must be found immediately before this half-finished hotel becomes an eyesore. Innovative solutions might be considered including perhaps offering local shareholding to finance completion. Government could get a “quick win” on this one with high visibility.

All of these hotels are all in a very expensive mess. There is no adequate tourism development plan within which to assess their relevance, no adequate studies on their effects on road capacity, water and power consumption, natural environment, violation of international agreements, local land prices or anything else.

In some cases we don’t even know what it is intended to build or who is monitoring their activities to ensure that they are in conformity with their planning consents. They are all predicated on Citizenship by Investment (CBI) money that will dry up some time soon. They are all environmentally destructive and their potential benefits (if there are any) have not been calculated, made public or subject to proper public scrutiny. They have all been approved on the nod by a government known for lack of transparency leading to suspicions of corruption and cronyism.

We suggest the setting up of a small, voluntary ad hoc steering group of objective participants reporting to an appropriate ministry (to be discussed with the PM) with representatives from public interest groups and government or relevant statutory bodies. These should include expertise in environmental matters, economic development, the hotel and tourism sector etc. and with access to the AG for legal advice.

The brief of the steering group should be to advise government on what should be done about each of these developments to achieve the maximum gains for the country and to minimise the legal costs of extracting government from them if that is the advisable action. This may include an exploratory negotiation with interested parties including the developer groups.

The steering group should also make suggestions on the preparation of a national tourism plan and prepare a brief for the undertaking of this. Government will then decide if this is to be undertaken and fund it but if not then we will deploy the best resources we have nationally on a voluntary basis.

The plan should identify the types of tourism Grenada should target (and the types it does not want) and the priorities and scale (quantities) for these and how they are to be achieved.

It should also prepare a land-use zoning plan for tourism (where hotel developments are allowed and where they are not) to be empowered by the Physical Planning and Development Act 2016, which actually requires this to be done (though it never has been).

Applications for development in protected areas would automatically be declined, preventing any opportunities for backdoor approvals. Protected areas in public ownership should be turned over to citizen trusts in perpetuity to prevent any future government overruling the planning protections – as was tried at Camerhogne Park.

Improving the physical development control process
The development control process in Grenada is defective. Planning applications for major projects have been approved behind closed doors without community consultation or rigorous and public evaluation of the quantity and distribution of their costs and benefits – who wins and who loses.

The lack of transparency inevitably leads to suspicions that money changes hands behind the scenes and that developments may not be in the best public interests. This is reinforced by the suspicions that overseas developers have already done the deal with politicians and that development control exercised by the Planning and Development Authority (PDA) is little more than a rubber stamp.

And not all of the developers embraced by government have been above board or capable of undertaking the projects they propose – a situation complicated by the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) industry that is wide open to mismanagement and undue influence.

Much of the proposed development in Grenada with the greatest impact concerns hotels and related tourism infrastructure. We suggest that the ad hoc steering group proposed above could also look at development control improvement possibilities.

We have a decent Act (the Physical Planning and Development Control Act 23 of 2016) that allows PDA to do the right things but doesn’t ensure that it does so.

Possibilities for improvement include, for example:

  • an electronic register of planning applications accessible online and an obligation for PDA to inform likely interested parties neighbours and community and environmental protection groups) – we can’t keep going into the PDA office on the off chance we will discover a significant application has been submitted – this could be done electronically and by posting weather-proof notices on the property concerned and by notices in the media
  • a better resourced PDA and less time to be spent on neighbours’ house extension applications and more on major developments
  • more community and external technical representation when considering major developments – PDA could be obliged to form a temporary committee of interested parties to inform the evaluation
  • applicant developers for commercial schemes should be made to meet, in advance, the extra costs of improving the process – and application fees for bigger projects should be significantly raised
  • in particular, applicants should fund Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) but the PDA committee should appoint the relevant experts – at the moment EIAs are undertaken for the developer and can be little more than whitewash or ‘sales’ documents
  • evaluation committees for larger projects should specify ‘planning gain’ required from the applicant as a condition of planning consent – 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.
  • the structure of the Planning and Development Authority should be re-visited particularly the structure of the board – the idea of statutory authorities was that they are allowed to operate relatively free of politics and public service constraints but when government appoints most of the board members that objective is not achieved and members may be appointed more for their political allegiances than for their abilities or objectivity. Some thought could be given to a defined structure with representation from relevant sectors and skills.

If government wishes to pursue the recommendations made here we will provide more detailed and specific suggestions as to the composition, modus operandi and brief for this ad hoc group.

Coral Cove Group
contact@coralcovegrenada.org
www.coralcovegrenada.org