Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan has voiced government’s objection to the Georgetown City Council’s attempts to convert “green spaces” in residential areas for commercial ventures and has asked Georgetown Mayor Patricia Chase-Green to halt such moves.
Bulkan’s request was made by way of a letter to Chase-Green, dated January 22nd, 2018 and comes in wake of a recent court ruling against the City Council’s bid to use the Bel Air playground for a residential venture. Concern has also been recently raised about the possible use of the Farnum Ground in Subryanville for unintended purposes as well.
“I inform you further, that the undertaking by the Council to convert green spaces in residential areas into housing or other commercial ventures does not find favour with central government,” he wrote. “Instead, it is the desire and expectation of the administration that local democratic organs undertake to maintain and improve such areas for the benefit of all residents and citizens within the confines of their intended purpose,” Bulkan wrote.
As a result, he informed Chase-Green that central governmentexpects that any undertaking by the council must have the support of the respective community councillor, who must also agree for such an undertaking to be placed on the council’s agenda. He said in the absence of such an agreement, no fewer than two-thirds of the council would have to consent to have the matter placed on the agenda.
“I further apprise you that I am in favour of the exercise of a moratorium on the conversion or use of green spaces for any purpose apart from that for which such spaces are intended, and based on discussions at Cabinet, my colleagues share that view. I advise you of this fact for your consideration of implementation of such, within the municipality,” he added.
Bulkan’s letter was copied to Minister Amna Ally, in her capacity as PNCR General Secretary, and Minister Volda Lawrence, in her capacity as PNCR Vice- Chairperson, Town Clerk Royston King and councillors.
Meanwhile, Councillor Sherod Duncan used the letter to call for the resignation of Chase-Green and King. In a Facebook post, under which he posted the letter penned by the minister, he said “the Mayor and Town Clerk must resign immediately.”
“We cannot re-elect this Mayor in March 2018. Her Worship has done nothing to deserve the confidence of our vote, that most sacred of expressions of consent in those we desire to lead us. The Town Clerk bumbles from one degree of ineptitude to the next. His incompetence is taxing on the city. The people of Georgetown must be relieved of this combined burden. They must go!” he wrote.
He went on to point out that “the recent definitive rebuke of the Mayor and Town Clerk by Central Government is yet another example why they must go or else continue to damage the image of the Coalition Government at Local Government.”
‘Cease and desist’
Of note is that by the time the letter was dispatched, King had authorised the clearing of the Bel Air ground without first informing the council.
That action prompted attorney Devindra Kissoon, who was responsible for the court case against the council over its plan for the ground, to write Bulkan on behalf of residents on Wednesday, seeking a halt of the activity, which they see as being a violation of the court order. Kissoon informed the minister that despite the court order, the Town Clerk, Mayor and the council had taken “retaliatory steps” and cut down community trees and signaled that a fence would be erected to exclude use of the ground by residents, without any approval by the community.
“So ill motivated are the council’s actions, that work commenced surreptitiously on the weekend and continued through the night, has caused the land to flood by the surrounding trench, making it a swamp,” Kissoon wrote in his letter to the minister, which was seen by Stabroek News.
The letter to Bulkan was copied to President David Granger, State Minister Joseph Harmon and Attorney General Basil Williams.
On the same day, a cease and desist letter, also seen by Stabroek News, was sent by Kissoon to the mayor, King and all councillors, with the endorsement of over 80 residents.
In both letters, Kissoon informed that failure to respond would result in a move for contempt proceedings against the Mayor, the Town Clerk and every councillor.
It could not be confirmed last night whether either the council or Bulkan had replied to Kissoon’s letters.
The same concerns raised in the letters had been voiced by the constituency councillor Alfred Mentore at the council’s statutory meeting on Monday afternoon.
King had told council that when he sent a bulldozer to Bel Air Park, he had been acting to fulfill council’s mandate to maintain the ground. Mentore, however, stressed that it was very important for “political optics” that the constituency representative be informed and that King’s failure to do so has caused unnecessary harm to the council’s image.
He reported receiving several emails and phone calls and being unable to respond appropriately to his constituents. Mentore argued that if he had been informed, he could have appeased the residents, who had already been inflamed by the two-year court battle.
By virtue of Section 302(7) of the Municipal and District Councils Act, the M&CC is under an obligation to maintain sports grounds, theatres and promenade gardens in the reserve, which fall within the category specified in Section 302(7) as “open spaces and land vested in the M&CC.”
Justice Gino Persaud recently ruled that the Bel Air Park community playground is to be used specifically for community purposes and no other. The ruling was made against the Mayor and City Councillors, the Town Clerk and the Central Housing and Planning Authority, who in 2016 were attempting to convert the recreational space into residential house lots for the Mayor, Town Clerk, City Engineer and Medical Officer of Health.
Justice Persaud declared, among other things, that the intended use of the community reserve property by the respondents for the building of residential homes, was in breach of the servitude designating its use for community purposes only.
A servitude entitles the person who enjoys it to prohibit something or to do something for his own benefit, upon another’s land. Its registration in transport constitutes notice to all the world, of the existence of a real right.
As a result, Justice Persaud has granted an injunction, restraining the Town Clerk and the M&CC by themselves, their representatives, officers and or agents collectively and individually from using, leasing, transferring, assigning, conveying, licensing, selling, encumbering, dealing or permitting the use of the property for the purpose of building residential homes or otherwise other than for community purposes, or doing any act which would breach the Servitude contained in transport No. 1580.