Over the last few days, there has been much debate on the pending transformation of the Probyn Street area of Bridgetown, primarily the demolition of the former National Insurance Building at the corner of Fairchild and Probyn Streets and the Barbados Fire Service headquarters next door.
In her New Year’s Day address to the nation, Prime Minister Mottley said the two buildings were being removed to make way for the Golden Square Freedom Park, a space within the city to commemorate National Hero the Right Excellent Clement Payne, who staged his July 1937 public meetings there.
In the current debate, the main issues stem around vendors in the Fairchild Street area and minibus operators plying the Silver Hill, Fairy Valley and Newton/Kingsland bus routes, who have been asked to move at short notice.
Regarding the minibuses, it was back in the 1980s that the Probyn Street area catered not only to Silver Hill and its associated routes, but also Rendezvous, Forde’s Road, St. Patrick’s, Pine and Wildey, Bush Hall and Silver Sands.
The traffic dissipated somewhat when the route taxis took over the Forde’s Road, Bush Hall, Rendezvous and Silver Sands routes.
Then, in the early 1990s, the Pine and Wildey and St. Patrick’s buses were moved, but for whatever reason, the Silver Hill buses remained, and while they stayed there, a number of route taxis began plying the Silver Hill route as well, operating from the Constitution River Terminal like the other ZR vans on those more southern routes.
Now that the bigger minibuses have been asked to move from Probyn Street, they are complaining that there is no room at the Constitution River Terminal for them. This issue illustrates our contention that far too many public service vehicle permits were issued for that route. But, as the saying goes, “It is what it is”.
There are several routes operating out of the Constitution River Terminal with a combination of minibuses and ZR vans which are allocated based on whoever is next in line. Despite the higher number of PSVs on the Silver Hill route, there is no reason the same arrangement cannot work for them.
On the buildings to be demolished, the old National Insurance building was condemned as a “sick building” many years ago, and based on comments from people who worked there in its heyday, conditions could only have worsened since then. Therefore its demolition is long overdue. Vendors have been reassured that they will receive temporary accommodation while the demolition takes place.
We welcome the assurance that the Barbados Fire Service will continue to have a station in the vicinity of Bridgetown.
While the location is so far undisclosed, we suggest that a long-term solution could be the old General Hospital complex on Jemmotts Lane, which should be demolished once and for all and remodelled into a headquarters for both the Fire and Ambulance Services. There is surely enough land to accommodate and service both types of vehicles.
A previous attempt was made to honour the legacy of Clement Payne, when in 1998, after lobbying from the Pan-Africanist advocates, a bust of Payne was set up in Golden Square along with a memorial for the people who died during the July 1937 disturbances. But this has been virtually forgotten and some of the structures have been damaged over time.
Will the Golden Square Freedom Park form part of the Plant a Million Trees initiative that the Government is promoting? This area, among other parts of the capital, could definitely use some more green space.
It seems as though few or no pictures exist of what that area looked like in Payne’s heyday; if such photos can be found, it might be a good idea to model the area after that.
In this case, as we hope in other areas within our storied capital, historians should play a role in developing interpretation signage highlighting facts about Payne and the Barbados of this bygone era, especially the conditions leading to the riots, the riots themselves, profiles and photos of those who lost their lives, and the peaceful social revolution that was sparked. We imagine this will certainly make a great addition to the walking tours of Bridgetown.
But once again, we need to do a better job of letting potentially affected parties know when major capital works projects or other exercises are going to take place.
If indeed the minibus operators and vendors only found out they had to relocate a few days before the scheduled start of work, that is not acceptable.
We hope that after all the disruption, we will see a real and sustained transformation of a part of Bridgetown that has been left to deteriorate for way too long.