The new Planning and Development Bill should make complaints about the lack of efficiency and inconsistency at the Town and Country Planning Department a thing of the past, as it introduces a range of measures aimed at making the process faster and more transparent.
As he introduced the second reading of the Bill in the Senate this morning, Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Jerome Walcott, said, “The outgoing legislation was first drawn up over 50 years ago and no longer serves our needs. It is no longer efficient and it is not transparent. It hampers foreign investment owing to the long time it takes to approve applications, and it also lacks the policies and tools to protect our fragile environment and cultural heritage.”
The Bill entails a full restructuring of the operations of the department, including the creation of a Planning and Development Board which will oversee all applications but will handle some of the “bigger” ones. Senator Walcott stated that it will not be a statutory corporation.
“It will consist of the Chief Town Planner and 12 persons. The chairperson will be appointed by the minister but not from Government. There will be four ex-officio members from Government departments, a representative from the Barbados National Trust, two members au fait with construction such as architects, civil engineers and land surveyors, and other members representing a cross-section of interests including law, non-Governmental organisations, academia and private business, but everyone must have experience in matters regarding land development,” Senator Walcott said.
That board is also expected to meet at least once a month, members will serve for a period of three years, and the minutes of their meetings will be made public.
Provisions have also been made, he said, for full explanations for the rejection of plans to give applicants the opportunity to modify them to meet the required standards.
Another new feature is “approval in principle”, which will allow applicants to test the acceptability of a proposal. It does not give them planning permission or allow them to start construction, but rather gives them a chance to ‘test the waters’ before committing, the senator explained.
In addressing greater efficiency, specific timelines have also been given for the approval of certain types of plans. Noting that there were instances where it sometimes took over a year between the submission of plans and their eventual approval, under the new system, Walcott said, “We will now reduce this process to 12 weeks for applications when an Environmental Impact Assessment study is needed; ten weeks for ‘complex’ cases, and six weeks for all others.”
If these timelines are not met, or applicants have any other concerns if their applications are refused, they now have the option of an appeals tribunal, a feature that was previously unavailable.
Senator Walcott said following advice from the Barbados National Trust, the Bill would offer greater protection to heritage sites.
“The existing legislation is weak and limited and penalties for non-compliance were very low. We will now have a listing of our historic buildings, monuments and sites, and the law makes it clear that no-one can demolish or modify these buildings without first getting planning permission, but we will make exceptions in case of emergency work or where they endanger public safety.”