Protection of Barbados’ groundwater from contamination is as much a matter of rules and regulations as it is that of the will of elected politicians to enforce the laws of the land.
This was gathered from explanations offered by Chief Town Planner Mark Cummins, on why people are allowed to build homes on the restricted areas that store Barbados’ water underground, aquifers, which are subject to easy contamination.
One such area marked as a Zone 1 restricted location is the Belle, St Michael, and Cummins told a Physical Planning Development town hall meeting earlier this week: “The Ministry of Housing placed a number of signs and barriers on lands at the Belle, and if you drive there tomorrow you will see the barriers have been removed and people are building.”
“So it is a national problem that we have to deal with. The longer we keep our heads in the sand, the greater the problem will become,” he said at Queen’s College where the third of the meetings was held on Tuesday.
Without naming those who might be guilty of burying their heads in the sand, Cummins alluded to politicians when he said, “we always know when there is a particular time coming in the political cycle because we see a proliferation of construction in Zone 1 areas”.
“And while the onus is placed on the Town Planning Department and the Barbados Water Authority, we firmly believe that this is a national issue. We need to have persons not only make very serious decisions, because successive Cabinets have made very serious decisions.”
Cummins’ remarks stemmed from a concern voiced by St James North Member of Parliament Edmund Hinkson, who asked about more land being relieved of the heavily restrictive Zone I categorization so that land owners badly in need of housing in his constituency could be permitted to build.
Hinkson said that while people of his constituency suffer from a lack of land available for building, “you have wide open spaces in St James North where there is a prohibition in terms of physical development”.
His suggestion that application of building technology should enable Barbadians to build and live on some areas of Zone 1 land without threatening the island’s ground supply, was mentioned some two years ago by Minister with responsibility for water at the time, David Estwick. He had spoken of the probability of Zone 1, in areas such as the Belle, being sub-classified into Zone A and Zone B, with the latter open to home building and habitation.
“Between 2001 and now, technology has moved tremendously so what we have to do now is re-establish a new feasibility study to determine what exactly are the designs we need now, and what type of inputs are necessary at this particular point in time,” Estwick said in 2014.
One of the consultant urban planners, Anna Iannucci, assured Tuesday that the physical development plan is clear about the protection of Zone 1, “which will now be Zones A and B lands”, and the restrictions on uses in that area.
But Cummins said, “Zone 1, or Zone A, is always a bugbear”.
“We have to determine are we prepared to deal with the issue of the threat to our underground water supply, or are we going to support the Barbados Water Authority and the Town Planning Department in relieving us of the challenges that we have,” he contended.
“I think the Water Authority will attempt to address it in the legislation which will come about with the new zoning.”
Stating that his department had put in all necessary updated policies that are consistent with those of the Water Authority in the proposed amendment to the development plan, Cummins said he was unsure whether the changes in law had yet been brought to Parliament.
“On paper, it looks good, but we have to deal with what is happening on the ground,” he insisted.