Sheriff Street’s survival as a public thoroughfare is under threat

Dear Editor,

The passing by the National Assembly on Thursday, March 10, 2011 of the Title to Land (Prescription and Limitation) (Amendment) Bill 2011 is an opportune time for me to ventilate some very relevant concerns

I avoid at this time the controversial aspect of the Act which will have the effect of protecting from acquisition by prescription all land owned by the State, or its wholly-owned agencies.  My unequivocal support is directed to the provisions for preservation of the sanctity of the various reserves many of which have suffered violation by the acquisitive members of our society for both commercial and domestic purposes.  And that is where Sheriff Street, Georgetown comes into most compelling focus.

Yes, unlike most of the City Council Streets in Georgetown, Sheriff Street is State property and by virtue of the Roads Act, Chapter 51:01 of the Laws of Guyana falls effectively under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Works and so it is to the incumbent Minister that we must address our appeal to save this vital highway from the violence that now afflicts it and threatens its survival as a public thoroughfare.

Each year now witness the erection of massive new structures for commercial purposes and from the ominous foundation works of those at present in progress the time is ripe for a demonstration of deepest governmental concern.

The main jeopardies to public order are and have progressively been:-

●      The occupation of the land outside the boundaries of owners’ lots;

●      The threat to public parking

●      Absence of provision for pedestrian passage.

It must be appreciated at the outset that the land outside and beyond the

boundaries of the lots as transported is a public reserve, which extends from the boundaries of lots on one side of the roadway to those on the other side and indeed includes Sheriff Street.  Accordingly, any occupation of such reserves has always been illegal except where specific approval for such occupation may have been granted by the State through the Ministry of Works.  The legal capacity for the grant of such approval is a matter of grave doubt.

The continuing problem is this.  The majority of the big businesses, principally but not limited to on the eastern side of Sheriff Street north of the government school have virtually cemented their occupation of the land immediately outside of their holdings right up to the edge of the roadway.  This has a three-fold effect:-

●      The businessmen tend to believe they actually own it;

●      The public tend to be so persuaded and must seek parking elsewhere;

●      Pedestrians are left at the mercy of the increasing motor and vehicular traffic.

●      A worthwhile interim measure may well be that the businesses who have established these self-serving pavements should be compelled to designate an area for ‘public parking.’

It must also be noted that there are on Sheriff Street several taxi services who affect to have the right not only to pave the entire parapet reserve outside their related business places but engage in the dangerous ritual of reversing onto this busy thoroughfare in pursuit of their business.

The disease of motor vehicle movement and traffic confusion arising from the vast concreted areas may well be appreciated after 4 pm and on Saturdays and in particular outside a large and recently established supermarket on the eastern side of the street.

Having regard to the statistics of pedestrian death and injury across the country, it is quite amazing that no provision whatever has been made on either side of this busy through-road for the use and protection of the pedestrian.  It is high time that the Commissioner of Police assert his statutory power in relation to motor vehicular traffic generally but with particular regard to the safety, convenience and preservation of pedestrian lives.  This naturally entails immediate communion with the Minister of Works who has charge and obligation regarding the required physical works and of course, the Town and Country Planning Authority.

We ought to remind ourselves that in matters of commercial and economic progress, the self-centred entrepreneur tends not to be constrained by the necessary adherence to statutory provisions made for the general public good.  Accordingly the Minister of Works and other agencies cited above must see it as their vital and immediate obligation to subject the Sheriff Street developments to all the legal and physical disciplines with regard not only to the present exigencies but those of future development in mind.

Yours faithfully,
Leon O Rockcliffe

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