New rules, hefty fines, and a shift in some responsibilities are some of the new measures included in the new Planning and Development Bill 2018.
And today, members of Town and Country Planning Department, Government officials and other stakeholders got the opportunity to give their feedback on some of the sweeping changes to the five-decades-old Act, previously known as the Town and Country Planning Act.
The new piece of legislation, which was laid in Parliament last month and is to be debated in the coming weeks, makes provision for the creation of a tribunal as well as a planning and development board, that will be responsible for making some decisions.
Besides making the Chief Town Planner and the department answerable to the board for their handling of applications and decisions, the Bill requires members of the board and tribunal to declare any conflict of interest, and for those offering or receiving bribes to be fined.
Anyone found guilty of directly or indirectly soliciting or accepting financial or other award or those found guilty of offering such bribes are guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of $250,000 or imprisonment for two years, or both. Members of the board or the tribunal who fail to disclose any conflict of interest could find themselves paying a fine of $100,000.
Addressing the gathering at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre earlier today, attorney-at-law and consultant Christine Toppin-Allahar said it was only fair that both those accepting a bribe and those offering it to be penalized.
“I think most people would agree with that,” she said.
She explained that while the minister with responsibility for the department would continue to have some power, there would be a “multi-disciplinary” planning and development board that will consist of ex-officio members and representatives from the private sector.
“That board will be the primary mechanism for decision-making about the planning applications in Barbados although the power of the minister to deal with applications of strategic importance has been retained, as is the department. And the Chief Town Planner will be the person who would bring applications to the board and organize the meetings,” said Toppin-Allahar, who pointed out that the Bill also makes provision for an appeals tribunal.
She said in order to avoid delays there would be a pre-application process, and all applicants must be made aware of all the requirements for their applications up front.
“All information requirements must be asked for promptly upfront by the Chief Town Planner. There can be no shifting of the goal post. At present it is often a sequential process – you make your application and they ask you for that and then you bring it and they ask you for something else – that will no longer be allowed,” she explained.
The new legislation also makes provision for strict timelines for an application to be processed and for consultations to be carried out.
Those applications considered “uncomplicated” as defined in the legislation, should take up to six weeks for a decision to be made, while “complex” applications, which can only be decided on by the board, should take up to ten weeks for a decision. Those applications requiring an environmental impact assessment (EIA) should take up to 12 weeks.
“These deadlines can only be extended with the consent of the applicant,” said Toppin-Allahar, who indicated that the Bill also provides for all minutes of board meetings to be made a public document so it could be scrutinized.
Kim Penfold and Sandy Penfold, consultants with the housing, planning and regeneration company Penfold Associates, said as the necessary legislative changes were made it was critical that there was also be a change in mindset among the population.
They said there was also need for ongoing training of staff in both the public and private sector and greater employment of technology.
Stakeholders raised concerns about the lack of attention given to land used for agriculture, development along the coastline and the protection for some buildings while raising questions about who would make up the tribunal and the planning and development board.