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Friday 19 April 2019
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Govt to build houses on nurseries

Housing Minister Randall Mitchell
Housing Minister Randall Mitchell

Richardson Dhalai

The Opposition UNC and the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT) have condemned a proposal by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to construct a “multi-use” housing development at Curepe. The site is also home to the St Augustine nurseries.

An online Go Petition has also been created for people to voice their objection to the project.

The issue was highlighted by former food production minister Devant Maharaj in a post on Friday on the UNC’s website where he noted that “on the eve of the 2018 Carnival celebrations, on Fantastic Friday,” the HDC was hosting a public consultation on the North Grove project at a Pentecostal church in Curepe.

He said the consultation was scheduled to begin at 4.30 pm when the “eyes of the media and the nation is on the reign of the Merry Monarch.”

“At a church on Carnival Friday, the Government agency HDC in the shadows of obscurity in the Carnival melee is conspiring to further destroy the agriculture sector and voter pad. Why on Carnival Friday would the HDC host such a consultation,” he said.

“The importance of the lands at the St Augustine Nurseries cannot be underscored. The germplasm there and the fertile Grade 1 soil and link both with food security. Millions of taxpayers’ dollars have been spent to upgrade the nurseries over the years so as to ensure that the nation’s farmers have adequate planting stock and there is genetic variety.

“The Government has planned that the nearby HDC apartment complex will be significantly expanded and placed in the middle of a germplasm collection used for plant propagation.

“Acres of fertile soil St Augustine loam will be forever lost…coved with concrete. The Aquafers in the location will be also forever destroyed and this is not even to begin to address the issue of job security issues with employees at St Augustine Nurseries.”

Maharaj alleged that the “flagging support” for St Joseph MP Terrence Deyalsingh is one of the driving factors “as it is hoped that the new addition of voters will secure the PNM in the next general election.”

However, in a text message Housing Minister Randall Mitchell stated that “there is no such day as fantastic Friday on our calendar. Yesterday was a working day.”

And regarding Maharaj’s other concerns, Mitchell stated that he was out of the country and referred all queries to the HDC’s managing director Brent Lyons. Calls to Lyons’s mobile phone were unanswered.

Meanwhile the ASTT, in a post on its Facebook page, stated its opposition to the development and called on all farmers to attend the consultation. “Information note to all farmers and citizens of Trinidad and Tobago: It is now a matter of public interest that you participate and support a stand against the Minister of Agriculture and the Government to utilise our Grade A 1 Agriculture lands, that is the lands that houses the St Augustine nurseries in Curepe, to now be given to HDC to build houses. With no plants, there will be no agriculture! United we must stand and protect our agriculture sector,” the ASTT stated.

Citizens were urged to sign the online Go Petition which called on the “duly elected Government of Trinidad and Tobago, to immediately desist from proceeding with plans to demolish and/or close the St Augustine Nurseries in part or whole, to facilitate housing or any other change of use, recognizing that whilst housing is essential, food security is of paramount import and there is ample State land available to accommodate housing, without sacrificing a vital and long established facility that is the St Augustine Nursery.”

According to the HDC’s website, the proposed North Grove development will be located on seven acres of flat terrain which is “an extension of agricultural lands and is presently being used for experimental crops.”

The HDC also cites an August 2017 Cabinet Minute #1376 which stated that “although the parcel of land is presently used for agricultural purposes, it is located in a densely built-up urban area, surrounded to the south, north and east by built development, including commercial and residential uses.” Calls to Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharath’s mobile phone were unanswered.

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