Residents get go-ahead to challenge Todd Street housing plan
A HIGH COURT judge has given a group of San Fernando residents and organisation permission to file a judicial review claim against the Prime Minister over a purported decision by the Cabinet to transfer a hectare of state land at Todd Street, San Fernando, to the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to construct multi-family housing units.
On Monday, Justice Jacqueline Wilson granted the group - which comprises four entities- leave to apply for judicial review.
At the hearing, Russell Martineau, SC, the lead attorney for Dr Rowley - who is sued as prime minister and head of the Cabinet - argued against the granting of leave, saying the threshold for judicial review was low. Martineau also pointed to an interim response from the State that the matter was premature as a firm decision had not been taken on the use of the lands.
On September 8, 2022, the Cabinet transferred the land to the HDC although there were two alleged objections to the change of use of the land from a school site to residential use.
In response, the lead attorney for the group, Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, disagreed that the matter was premature. He said Cabinet agreed to transfer the land for the specific purpose of facilitating the construction of housing units. He referred to legal authorities on challenges to a decision as soon as a publicly stated position was made known to avoid applicants in such cases being accused of delaying in bringing a claim.
After granting leave, Wilson set October 6 for the hearing of oral submissions on the lawsuit.
The group - the Krishna Mandir of 40 Todd Street; the Shri Krishna Seva Trust Foundation; the Sri Sevak Sabha Incorporated and the Concerned Citizens for a Better San Fernando - in the application has complained of the purported decision to change the designated use of the hectare of land and the transfer.
The group is asking for a declaration to deem the decision unlawful and wants it quashed. It also wants the court to direct the Cabinet to reconsider the decision.
The lawsuit contends that the decision was made despite the fact that the existing national development plan designated the land for institutional and not residential use and there was no amendment to change the use to residential.
It also said the Town and Country Planning Division expressly said in correspondence to the HDC that the land was allocated as a school site and was not recommended for residential use, “a matter which either the Cabinet has ignored or failed to consider.”
It further contends that none of the affected people or bodies was consulted.
The residents and organisations say they found out about the change when surveyors were seen on the land and told them what they were doing. On October 27, 2022, a meeting was held with them, the San Fernando mayor and MP Faris Al-Rawi. A media release was then sent by the HDC and a statement was made at a public administration and appropriations committee of Parliament that “everything is at a preliminary stage and that no decision had been made to build houses” at Todd Street.
A pre-action letter was also sent in November 2022, but the group was repeatedly asked to hold its hands on filing the action until attorneys for the State had an opportunity to get proper instructions.
In December, the State provided an interim response that the proposed legal action was premature since no decision was made to formally vest the land in the HDC.
In support of the application, the president of the Sri Sevak Sabha, Ann-Marie Tawari, complained of the heavy traffic situation in the area which, she said, would be exacerbated if a housing project is put there.
Neela Maharaj, of the Sri Krishna Seva Trust, also spoke of the traffic situation and the environmental effects construction work will have on the residents.
“Construction in this area would prevent us from continuing to attend the Krishna Mandir to carry out activities which are vitally important to the holistic development of our students and an integral part of our curriculum, being a Hindu pre-school.”
Also representing the group are attorneys Rikki Harnanan, Ronnie Bissessar, Kingsley Walesby and Michael Rooplal. Also appearing for the Prime Minister are Margaret Rose and Tiffany Kissoon.
"Residents get go-ahead to challenge Todd Street housing plan"