BY NOVEMBER an automated land application system should be rolled out nationwide, reported Planning Ministry Acting Deputy Permanent Secretary Marie Hinds.
She was speaking last week as the ministry and a wide cross-section of authorities met with the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Local Government Reform) Biill 2019 at the Parliament building, Port of Spain.
Hinds said the Ministry of Planning will establish a national planning authority which will be responsible for complex developments (which may conflict with national policy and other major issues) while regional corporations will be responsible for simple developments (fewer than 20 plots). She said in expediting applications the ministry is doing a lot of work with the Town and Country Planning Division (T&CP) on the role the municipalities will eventually pick up.
She pointed out currently the municipalities have about one building inspector each. “So they do not have at present the capacity to implement and to fully put into action what the local government reform bill is speaking to in terms of a spatial and building inspectorate. But we already working as teams to work out how this is going to happen.”
She said the T&CP is implementing an automated system in which all relevant authorities will have sight of the application and the municipal corporations have been brought on board as well as WASA, the Works Ministry and other authorities. She reported the system will begin with a pilot project in the Port of Spain City Corporation at the end of August before the nationwide roll-out at the end of November.
T&CP assistant co-ordinator Dr Ancil Kirk said the legislation is expected to facilitate the faster processing of applications, as instead of only the four division regional offices, all 14 regional corporations and the Tobago House of Assemblly will receive applications.
He also said the Planning and Facilitation of Development Act, which is to be proclaimed and will complement the bill, will provide citizens with the rights to object to developments, and developers will have to post notices about what they intend to do and post bonds which can be used to rectify any issues.
JSC member Paul Richards asked about political considerations affecting the planning authority that will be devolved to regional corporations, and Kirk replied that where political issues would arise, the politicians will have to work those out. He said planning should be an apolitical activity but in experience it is often not.
JSC chairman Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Minister Clarence Rambharat said the two areas in which citizens face the most bureaucracy are firstly state lands and secondly planning and development.
JSC member Tabaquite MP Suruj Rambachan said the Planning and Facilitation of Development Act was passed five years ago but was “light years away” from being operationalised, and expressed concern the Planning Ministry seemed unprepared for the local government transition. He also criticised “tin pot” building inspectors who were mandating applicants that the inspectors themselves would draw the plans and also placing a series of hurdles before them. He said the application process can take an estimated 178-191 days from the time a plan is submitted to T&CP to the time approval is received in hand to start building. “If it is we are going to devolve authority to local government corporations, I think we want this to be done in 60 days. Otherwise it’s not going to make sense.”