Former Member of Parliament for The City Dame Billie Miller today warned that the recent problem of raw sewage spilling over into the streets along the south coast and in certain parts of Bridgetown, could only worsen with the construction of the proposed 250-room luxury Hyatt hotel.
Breaking her silence on the controversial development, Dame Billie, who represented the City in Parliament for over three decades before bowing out of active politics in 2008, further cautioned that the Bridgetown Sewerage System was already experiencing a “severe” overload, as she appealed directly to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to ensure that a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) was done before his Government proceeds any further with its plans for Carlisle Bay.
“I really do not want to have visions of raw sewage on the beach at Carlisle Bay,” Dame Billie said on local radio this morning as she detailed her numerous concerns about the proposed multi-million dollar development.
While noting that it comes against the backdrop of the ill-fated Four Seasons and Sam Lord’s Castle hotel projects, the former deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, tourism and international transport in the previous Owen Arthur-led Barbados Labour Party (BLP) regime called on the Stuart Government to proceed with extreme caution on Hyatt, while suggesting that sewage was not the only problem it would be faced with.
The 72-year-old retired politician also raised concern that there was really nowhere at the proposed beachfront location to handle the hotel’s laundry, cleaning and other “back of the house” issues.
Dame Billie, who grew up in The City and has a personal attachment to the area, was equally concerned that the Hyatt would be built within a designated marine park and at an important physical junction, which, she said, if approached the wrong way, could “imperil” other historic buildings along the Bay Street, St Michael corridor.
“The site is right opposite the Bethel Methodist Church. At not too far a distance is what is left of the ruin that used to be the Empire Theatre and across the road from that is the Fire Service Department with its tower,” Dame Billie explained. She also pointed out that “further along Lower Bay Street as you go towards Bridgetown . . . are three buildings remaining of all those beautiful old overhanging verandahs, some in closed with jalousies, some open and I fear that when the power-driving, or whatever instrument that will be used to make the foundation, start to work, they are going to imperil all of the buildings to which I have just referred.”
Of particular concern to her was the likely impact on the 173-year-old Bethel Methodist Church, whose car park currently floods at high tide.
“What I’m saying is that the water level is very high there and I would be very interested to know what kind of foundation would be built for two, 12-storey high rise towers,” the Methodist member said on this morning’s Down To Brass Tacks show on which Barbados TODAY’s Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief Kaymar Jordan made a guest appearance.
She is therefore hoping that the Prime Minister, who has responsibility for Town Planning, will take these issues into consideration.
However, it may be a little too late since Stuart indicated just last week that the Hyatt project was pretty much a go, with construction expected to begin sometime during the first half of this year.
“Within the next seven days I expect to be in a position to give planning permission for the downtown Hyatt project, by which time all of the outstanding pre-conditions would have been satisfied,” Stuart said in his address to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s first luncheon for 2017 at the Hilton Barbados Resort last week.
At the time no mention was made by him of any EIA or if there would be any town hall meetings. However, Stuart assured the private sector that “this permission will be subject to all the necessary conditions” to protect the interests of the wider Barbadian community.
The US$100 million project has been mired in controversy ever since an agreement was signed last July by developers Mark Maloney and James Edgehill and Hyatt’s Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Development and Construction Pat McCudden.
Back then the various parties had promised that construction would begin within two months.
However, social activist David Comissiong had objected on environmental grounds, and he was joined by the National Trust, which contended the project was likely to cost Barbados its UNESCO World Heritage designation.
Just last week Comissiong reiterated his call for a comprehensive EIA to include wide public participation, telling Barbados TODAY he would proceed with plans for legal action if no such study was held.
In support of the position taken by Comissiong, who was once her political rival in the City, Dame Billie said the EIA should include at least one or two town hall meetings.
“My concern has to do with the fact that it is proposed that it would sit at a place in Bay Street which is a very important junction for traffic coming along that major artery along Bay Street, coming along the south coast and into Bridgetown and the implications that it would have,” she said.
While insisting that the call for a comprehensive study could not be overstated, the former legislator who served from 1976 to 2008, said as far as she was aware, the Barbados Physical Development Plan was yet to be presented for public discussion.
“I was advised last year that it was going to happen in the very early part of this year and there would be a series of town halls meetings,” she revealed.
However, in the absence of such, she said, “I am really very deeply concerned that we need to be quite sure that we are standing on firm ground”.
Asked if the EIA checks out if she would be willing to entertain the Hyatt in the area proposed, the former BLP representative, whose previous administration oversaw much of the hotel development that currently exists along the coastlines, admitted that her preference was really for a boardwalk to go uninterrupted all the way up the “most beautiful bay”.
She also suggested that there were places much better suited than the Carlisle Beach location for construction of the high-rise hotel, expressing concern that it was to be used as a “springboard” for many more projects on the beach.
Dame Billie said she simply could not conceive of the greater part of Carlisle Bay area being ruined by high-rise hotels, even though she acknowledged that the BLP’s own vision was for the Needham’s Point end alone to house such developments, but not the entire bay front area.
“We have to be careful what will happen along that beach . . . We do not know how wave action will work, how currents will work, how Mother Nature in any way will work. We do not know when the sea will reclaim part of what it has given up in our lifetime . . . and I cannot believe that the Hyatt Resort people would not have had their own environmental impact assessment studies done,” she said, pointing out that wave studies take years to do.
However, she made it clear that she was not against hotels, but “the wider Bridgetown must not be made to pay a huge price for that” and “it must be done in a planned fashion”.