People living illegally in the Rock Hall, St Philip community adjacent to the Grantley Adams International Airport are one step closer to being relocated.
In fact, the first 20 of the approximately 250 squatters should be moving to their new location in Parish Land Extension in the same parish in just over two months.
On Tuesday, officials broke ground for the construction of a road and started clearing the more than one acre land space where the houses are to be rebuilt.
There will be 16 lots on the eastern side and four lots on the western side of the area, which is separated by a water course. The average lot size will be about 3,500 square feet.
Minister of Housing, Lands and Maintenance Dr William Duguid said Government was committed to moving the Rock Hall residents to various locations as promised more than a year ago.
“We hope to get this project completed and the road built in a matter of six to eight weeks. After we get the road built, we will start the programme where we start to move houses into this area,” Duguid explained.
The second phase, he said, would be the relocation of 186 houses to lots at the Concordia Gardens in Philip, a stone’s throw away from the Dodds prison facility.
He gave no indication where the remaining 44 Rock Hall houses would be relocated, but said the idea was to have 500 housing solutions for squatters across several communities.
Government indicated in the past that some of the Rock Hall residents could be moved to communities in Christ Church.
In defending the delay in starting the relocation of the squatters, Duguid explained that the process was a lengthy one, which included identifying land that belonged to the Government, designing the road and layout, and getting permission from the Town and Country Planning Department.
With some residents indicating in the past that they did not want to give up the location they occupied for several years, Duguid said he would first target those willing to relocate then there would be a “negotiation” with the others.
“We are going to try our best to come to an amicable situation for everybody included,” he added.
Member of Parliament for the Rock Hall area, Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir said he was happy to see progress being made. He said there was “a lot of talk” in the past about relocating the residents but the Mia Mottley administration was now “bringing a human face to people’s existence”.
“This, to my mind, represents what Government is about, what Government should look like. I sincerely hope this process will continue at pace to make sure we can have those people relocated from Rock Hall,” he said
He said the residents would be able to move their existing structures to the new “regularised” environment rather than live in doubt in their present location.
Where houses are to be placed on a location considered arable land, Weir gave the assurance that a balance would be met. He explained an application for a change of land use would have to go to his ministry and research would be carried out before a decision is taken.
“I want to state now that agriculture is not just land anymore. It has moved to a stage now where it is driven by technology. You can go into green houses and aquaculture. So the space of land you need would not be as much as you needed in the past. Equally, the amount of water that you would use in the modern facilities would be less than what you use in open field agriculture.
“So we have to make the change because the world is moving and as the world moves we have to keep pace and we can only do so if we can adapt to the changes that are taking place,” said Weir.
Meanwhile, Dr Sonia Browne, Member of Parliament for St Philip North, which covers the Parish Land community, said she was happy to see the process being “expedited”.
She made it clear that Government would be spending very little to have the residents relocated since the houses would be broken down at the existing location and rebuilt at the new location.
“It is a little refreshing to know that some of the materials on the housings will be used back in the project,” she said, adding “it is a pleasure to have the residents of Rock Hall moving to St Philip North. It is long overdue”.
However, she called on the minister with the responsibility to ensure that residents throughout her constituency were able to have access to affordable housing solutions.
“There are many of my residents who have been applying for housing for several years, long before we were in Government and I would hope that somebody would see to it that the applications are processed for the people that are already living in St Philip North and are renting and would love to be able to rent to own or buy their own properties,” she said.