Government this evening ruled out allowing the sprawling, illegal housing settlement at Rock Hall, St. Philip, citing public health concerns for its decision to relocate residents, Prime Minister Mia Mottley told a post-Cabinet press briefing.
The Prime Minister said: “The bottom line is, the unauthorised occupation of land at Rock Hall, St Philip, is not in the interest of the people living there, and now we are in a position to do something about it, we will.”
She said that one of the Government’s primary concerns about the development on lands next to the Grantley Adams International Airport is that the area was once home to a landfill.
“This matter was brought to our attention about five or six weeks ago by the Minister of Housing, and there were two main concerns; not just the flight path but the fact that the majority of people have built their houses on a dump, and I don’t need to tell you the public health implications for people living on a dump.”
She indicated that Government agencies are expected to work together to survey the area and offer relocation solutions to residents, while using the opportunity to ease overcrowding in other public housing areas.
She said she ordered a comprehensive survey on the squatters’ settlement 12 years ago, when she was Deputy Prime Minister in the last Labour Party government under Owen Arthur.
Mottley said: “Back then, we submitted to the then Cabinet a comprehensive programme to deal with people who are in unauthorised possession of land, that is, squatters, and we agreed to carry out a comprehensive set of social surveys that looked at their name, country of birth, identification number, telephone number, lot number, address, age, gender, economic activity, monthly income, family size, number of children, period of residence in the house on the spot, and whether the property was owned or rented.
“We also found there were instances where “bandits” were trying to sell people the land, and fewer than twenty per cent of the residents were non-nationals.”
Now that the settlement has expanded in the intervening decade. Government plans to undertake another survey, she said.
She told reporters an “updated social survey” is being undertaken by the Ministry of Housing and the Welfare Department, following which the agencies are to speak to the residents “both collectively and individually to see how they can be relocated”.
Government is to make land available not only to the residents in Rock Hall, but also to address overcrowding in older public housing estates in the Pine, Wildey, Silver Hill, Gall Hill and Haynesville, she added.
Said the Prime Minister: “Twelve years ago we recommended that for people below the poverty line, earning $1,500 or less per month, a grant would be given to them for $25,000 that would still require they use their own labour or that of family or friends to build, but for anyone above that, Government will be offering loan facilities.
“We recognise that people earning under $4,000 a month cannot afford to buy land at $25 per square foot and build a house, and we would not allow Barbadians to be deprived from getting housing when they are in need.”