straight to the point – from different points of view

They failed us – Town and Country Planning

They failed us – Town and Country Planning

In the preceding two weeks I dealt with the reasons why I gave the police and EMA failing grades in this matter dealing with the unlawful THA construction in Charlotteville. Had either or both of them done their jobs properly we would not have arrived at the unsatisfactory position where we find ourselves today. Incredibly, there is anther agency that facilitated the unlawful action by the THA. I speak of the Town and Country Planning Division (T&CPD).

As was the case with both the police and EMA, there are several letters of complaint to T&CPD where we attempted as best we could to cajole them into discharging their responsibilities. In this case, there are two major areas of concern. They are firstly that the document as submitted was a conditional approval but also that it was not for a building even close to what is being built or even in line with what was claimed in THA submissions to the court.

At the best of times a builder would be taking a chance in constructing a building based on a conditional approval. Those entrusted with the public purse should be especially careful in ensuring that they comply with relevant laws and regulations. After all, they should not wish to be accused of spending public funds on an unlawful project. We pointed this out to T&CPD but they took no action.

Even after the judgment of Justice Rajkumar, THA claimed to have heeded his demand for all necessary approvals without first obtaining a final T&CPD approval. On the strength of the original conditional approval THA proceeded to resume work. T&CPD turned a blind eye to this first transgression but that was not the end of their neglect of their own rules.

Not only was their approval merely conditional, it was not even for the building as claimed in the approval. The approval was for an extension to an existing Community Centre. That is what they were supposed to be building. That is what they sought and got conditinal approval for.

In fact, they never intended or attempted to undertake an extension as per their application and approval. Firstly, the new building stands adjacent to and apart from the Community Centre. There is no point of contact with the nearest proximity being about six feet. That is no extension.

Secondly, the size of the new building is also relevant. One would normally expect an extension to be not larger than that which is being extended. In this case the new building has possibly six or more times the floor space than the building that is supposed to be extended. Again, not an extension.

Then we have the drawings and narrative that were submitted to the court. Nowhere in that documentation is there anything other than a new building that stands totally apart from the Community Centre. They made clear by their submissions to the court and by every statement that they put out that they were undertaking the construction of a new building. But they were allowed to get away with it.

If you ever look at a conditional approval form from T&CPD, you should pay attention to their notes at the bottom. It states clearly and forcefully that in the event of a change of the design, that a new application would have to be submitted. Despite our communication and the unambiguous words on their own document, T&CPD did not apparently follow up with THA so as to ensure that their rules were followed.

In the aftermath of Justice Rajkumars order, THA brazenly filed the grossly inadequate conditional approval in support of their decision to resume work. If they argue that they did not consider that their conditional approval for an extension that bearing no resemblance to what they actually were building, I do not believe that many people would take them seriously. They knew that their conditional approval was far from what was required but they proceeded regardless and with the utmost contempt for the court.

T&CPD failed miserably in the discharge of the responsibilities for which they are responsible. THA continues to act in clear breach and undisguised disregard for them as a regulatory agency. In this case, T&CPD still have the power to stop this project. I am clear that they still have both the power and responsibility to act. Their reputation has been tarnished by their neglect of their duties. Yet it is not too late to stop this breach.

We need T&CPD to be effective in discharging their responsibilities. They cannot pick and choose which projects are allowed to proceed regardless of their compliance with the rules and regulations. We know the price that we pay nationally for unregulated construction. T&CPD, please step up to the plate. Take notice of this breach and deal with it in the serious manner that it deserves.

I will be writing to them yet again in the hope that this most needed regulatory authority chooses to enforce their laws against all offenders regardless of identity.

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About a previous column:

I wrote a previous column where I chastised THA for failing to respond to a number of Freedom of Information requests within the stipulated period of 28 days. That was indeed the case but I can report that I did receive satisfactory replies to all but two of my questions shortly thereafter, for which I do not hesitate to commend the officers(s). T&T could use more like them. They have promised to deal with the two outstanding questions within a further 28 days and I am satisfied with the reasons advanced for the delay.

Once all the answers are received, I will deal in a future column with the matters in question.

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