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Planned approach to land use needed
The T&T Guardian’s editorial on Monday urged the need for proper planning for the capital city. The piecemeal, erratic approach that has undermined attempts to develop the city has been applied nationwide, with equally disastrous results. What the country needs is a comprehensive policy and planning approach that will allocate the vital and limited land space to be shared amongst the needs of housing, for preservation of the land for environmental purposes, for agricultural usage, recreation and for other imperatives.
That is an approach which has been advocated by many over the last few decades and more so in the context of the industrial base of the economy, the drift to the urban centres and the environmental challenges which have become evident as the government and local and foreign industrialists seek to make use of this country’s natural resources.
Yet succeeding governments have done little that is substantial to develop and implement such a policy framework. Without such a framework, informed by research and reason, the country risks the possibility that the society will be plunged into deep conflict every Monday morning by protests by one group or another, or by precipitate and potentially dangerous action by governmental authorities and others.
The most recent consequence is the one reported in yesterday’s Guardian—the possibility that poisonous lead compounds are leaking into the Arima river, with devastating potential for human health. One of the telling aspects of that conflict is the post-facto approach being taken, first by the Environmental Management Authority and the new Minister of the Environment.
Both the minister and the EMA have said that the claims of lead poisoning are still to be investigated and decisions then made on the basis of that research. While such necessary scientific work is taking place—with no stipulated time frame for completion—the health of thousands of people living in the area may be in danger.
The mandate of the EMA should be expanded, with the authority having the power to act before any solid plans for land-use development get off the ground. When there is known contamination in an area, as in this case, the authority itself should be making periodic checks and taking pre-emptive action, rather than reacting after the fact to a report by environmental activists.
The planning and policy process must also guard against governments in power making grants of land for political purposes, such as the now infamous grant made by the Patrick Manning PNM regime for the construction of the church at Guanapo.
Similarly, an overarching policy framework will serve to neutralise the antics of opposition politicians who show themselves to be ardent environmentalists—until they get into power. Then they revert to normal and bulldoze their way over protesters and anyone else who come in the way of what the government determines to be progress.
Similarly, while the preservation of the environment is an admirable aim, it cannot always be paramount. Protesters cannot be allowed to stand unnecessarily in the path of economic development when the scientific evidence is clear that planned work will not do damage to the environment and to people and their living circumstances.
Such unnecessary and damaging action has the potential to cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars and deprive the country of developmental projects. A holistic approach along clear, pre-planned guidelines would have avoided the hundreds of millions spent on the construction of the Brian Lara Stadium and the laying of cement over agricultural lands.
In addition to the financial costs, the loss of environmentally sensitive lands and ministers demonstrating ignorance and intolerance for proper procedures, every con- frontation between citizens and governmental institutions erodes the social contract and sours the harmonious relationship that should exist between the government and the governed.
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