It has been over a year since residents of White Hill, St Andrew have been without proper access to their homes. Heavy rains in November 2014 caused extensive land slippage, damaging the road making it impassable, and affecting a number of houses. Soon after, in December 2014, the road was condemned, grinding traffic to a halt.
The situation has remained like this since, until today when residents received a temporary reprieve.
“We had some discussions . . . [with] some technical people and we agreed to do a temporary road at this time, making sure that residents can access their homes, making sure that public and private transport could also come through this road,” Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley told the media during a tour of the area.
Government is in the process of reconstructing the main artery. However, Lashley made it clear that the $200,000 project was only a temporary solution. He disclosed that a company was now on a Government contract conducting some “test holes” that will inform a permanent solution.
“I have been informed by MTW [Ministry of Transport and Works] personnel that by Monday this process would finish all things being equal. But the long-term solution we know that [there is] some money, I think about $5 million set aside that would start [that process] but of course we need some other funds and we will make those funds available in the long term to build out a proper solution to this problem,” Lashley explained.
In the meantime he said maintenance would be conducted by personnel from the Ministry of Transport and Works who would be “looking to see where the problem is . . . to make sure that we don’t encounter the problems we had before.”
Outspoken resident Carlita Andrew, who had been agitating for the plight of residents to be addressed, welcomed the move.
“We are satisfied because we have been suffering for too long. People got injured, nobody responded to us before, but it is about time. We are happy to at least see something is being done,” she said.
However, Opposition Member of Parliament for St Andrew George Payne, who was among those getting a first-hand look at the work being done, expressed his disappointment that it had taken Government an entire year to address the situation.
He also charged that it took the collapse of a tree in the area “to a sort of wake up Government” to do something about the situation.
“This exercise here this morning is not one that is properly thought out because I would have thought that the houses in the immediate area would have been resited. Also, I am sad to see that you are doing a site visit of this nature and the Minister of Housing is not here, housing personnel they are not here. So even though I am glad that finally after over a year something is being done, I believe that it is still not being done in a proper way,” Payne told Barbados TODAY.
“We have situations –– I can take you to places where people are actually living under the earth in this particular area and nothing has been done by the Ministry; absolutely nothing for over a year. So this can be an exercise in futility unless they bring the other areas of Government to facilitate a sought of speedy resolution to this matter,” Payne added.
This pronouncement did not go down well with Lashley who labelled it as nonsensical and irresponsible.
“When I was Minister of Housing we relocated the first set of houses down to Farmers Terrace. The second phase [where another five houses would be relocated] is now coming up through Minister Denis Kellman. So to say that it is neglect is totally wrong.
“So I think it is nonsensical and it is foolishness for a former Minister of Housing and Transport, who had responsibility at the time and was in a better position to do better for his constituency, to now come and blame it at the feet of the Government. He is the one that should be blamed.”
Lashley also charged that the present situation in White Hill should have never deteriorated to such a level as affected residents should have been at “the forefront of the National Housing Corporation” years ago.
“Instead, the Minister of Housing at the time, George Payne shifted the mandate of housing to the building of commercial housing like the Barrack building instead of funneling that money that he found for the Barrack building which was about $90 million to give his constituents some comfort. So, to say that the neglect was done by the Democratic Labour Party is totally wrong.
“I think the statements that he made –– I deem it as very irresponsible.”
The ruling Democratic Labour Party candidate for St Andrew Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner was also on site and she was adamant that this was not a political but a human rights issue.
“This is about people, this is not politics because whether [Barbados Labour Party or Democratic Labour Party] it should have been dealt with,” said Sandiford-Garner, who has been a St Andrew resident since age eight.
“As a St Andrew person when the rain falls I can not sleep because Cambridge slips, up here slips, Chalky Mount slips. It is a very uncomfortable feeling and it is a situation that we are dealing with incrementally . . . this has been long in coming. But I mean if we are interested in the well-being and the human rights of people this situation should have been dealt with a long time ago,” she added.