Secrecy, a lack of transparency and lengthy delays have been identified as some of the major hurdles in the way of developers and other stakeholders in the planning process.
Kim Penfold, consultant with the housing, planning and regeneration company, Penfold Associates, today complained there was too much secrecy and too many delays at Town & Country Planning, lending to a feeling, especially among the public, that the process was neither fair nor honest.
“The wider public has a right to know that their interests are being considered when planning applications are being dealt with,” Penfold told the second in a series of stakeholder consultations on the planned reform of the Town and Country Planning Act at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
He said it was imperative that both the applicant and the wider public see the planning system as “fair, open, honest and efficient” if there were to be “a fit for purpose planning system”.
The planning consultant argued that delays in the planning process served as a deterrent to investment, invited illegal developments and created “a contempt of the planning system”.
“The system is also beset by secrecy, and I use that word deliberately because decisions are actually made that you don’t know anything about. That destroys the confidence and trust and it raises suspicion about corruption . . . whether corruption exist or not. And again this secrecy deters investment,” he stressed, adding that “transparency builds trust and confidence”.
Penfold stressed the need for consistency in the granting of permission, although he admitted there would be exceptions, which he advised ought to be dealt “in a clear, opened and explained fashion”.
“Finally on these cross-cutting issues is the governance point, which I hope will be applied to all the rest of the discussion. The governance point comes down simply to who will make the decision. Sometimes at the moment it is the Prime Minister, sometimes it is the chief town planner. Should the Prime Minister have to make decision about simple little things? Should the chief town planner have ultimate authority on almost every application that goes through the system? These are all things we should look at,” he advised.
It was also revealed that it could take up to eight years for an appeal to be settled, with Penfold pleading for the process to be managed “so it can deliver on time, as simple as that”.
“Sometimes when planning applications go to appeal and take eight years that is of no use to anybody. So those are things that need to be dealt with,” he insisted.
Meantime, attorney-at-law Christine Toppin-Allahar said there was a lot of catching up to do with regards to updating the planning law in order to make it more reflective of current realities.
During today’s discussions concerns were also raised about the lack of enforcement against those involved in unlawful developments, with participants recommending the penalty be increased from the current $1,000 fine.
One of the other recommendations made was for the authorities to consider establishing a separate department to carry out enforcement of building codes and standards.
The consultations were designed primarily for the Mia Mottley administration to discuss with stakeholders, the challenges associated with the town planning process and to come up with workable solutions.
At the end of the process, which began last Monday, it is hoped that a new Town & Country Planning Act will be developed, which should go before Parliament by the end of November.