Bel Air Park residents ask minister to halt M&CC works on playground

-accuse city of violating court order

A stretch of the Bel Air Park Community Ground that was cleared of weeds and trees by the Mayor and City Council (Photo by Keno George)

Residents of Bel Air Park have appealed to Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan for his intervention to stop City Council from continuing land clearing works on their playground on Eping Avenue, which they say are a violation of a recent court ruling.

However, Town Clerk Royston King last night indicated that the Council yesterday filed an appeal of the court ruling that the Bel Air Park Community Playground is to be used specifically for community purposes and no other.

By way of a letter, dated January 26th, from their attorney Devindra Kissoon, residents urged Bulkan to intervene.

“Minister, we beg you to intervene and put an end to this madness…the Mayor and City Council continue to destroy the Bel Air Park Playground, bulldozing trees which nest endangered species and killing wildlife, working through the night with rapid pace, under the guise of playground maintenance. Work continued until 1:30 am until the police were called,” Kissoon said in the letter, which was seen by Stabroek News.

A tree which was severely pruned

The appeal by the residents comes days after the minister wrote to the Mayor, voicing government’s objection to the Georgetown City Council’s attempts to convert “green spaces” in residential areas for commercial ventures and to halt such moves. The letter was prompted in part by Justice Gino Persaud’s recent ruling 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.

“Without intervention, we are fully exposed to the lawlessness of the Mayor, Town Clerk and Council,” Kissoon wrote, while noting that the given the “state of affairs… hope is slowly being lost, that the rule of law can prevail in Guyana.”

‘Ill motivated’

It was the second letter in three days written to the Communities Minister by Kissoon.

Kissoon, who was responsible for the court case against the council over its plan for the ground, wrote Bulkan on behalf of residents on Wednesday, seeking a halt of the activity.

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,” he wrote.

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.

Kissoon yesterday told Stabroek News that he had not received any response, except for a call from the minister’s secretary informing him that he would respond within a week and a letter from Councillor Ron Persaud, who indicated that he would comply with the order of the court.

Appeal

Nonetheless, King last night explained that the city filed a court action yesterday seeking to set aside the order made by Justice Persaud.

In responding to the letter served, King said the council does not need to respond since the court action has been filed. He went on to say that councillors do not need to respond to the letter sent by Kissoon, since the Town Clerk is responsible for the affairs of the council and all legal matters are dealt with by the Council.

Asked about his intention to erect a fence around the perimeter of the ground, King said that the fence is “absolutely important.” He noted that despite the agreement with the community, the city would still have to construct a fence that would serve as a barrier for children from falling into the trenches, if the community develops the ground.

He, however, pointed out that they would be holding off on the construction of the fence and will await the outcome of the court action they have filed.

King also told Stabroek News that the machines that were deployed to the area have been removed. When Stabroek News visited the area on Thursday, the machines were stationed on the ground and the lands were cleared of weeds and other overgrown vegetation. It was also observed that some of the limbs from the trees had been chopped off.

The same concerns raised in the letters had been voiced by the Constituency’s 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’s representative be informed and that King’s failure to do so had 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.

In his ruling, 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.

As a result, Justice Persaud 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.

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