Construction of gas station on city reserve was halted after complaint by residents

-GL&SC Commissioner says land was never leased to businessman

The plot of that is being developed by the businessman (Photo by Terrence Thompson)

The decision by the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) to halt what it called the unauthorised construction of a gas station on a reserve area was prompted by a complaint by Shirley Field Ridley Housing Scheme residents, who said the space was promised to them for a recreational ground.

The residents remain adamant that they do not want a gas station or any other business constructed on the land.

“We wrote to all the agencies and even City Council seeking intervention but nobody had time with us so we write the president himself because it seems only then you can get some attention in this place,” a resident told Stabroek News when this newspaper visited the area.

A resident voicing her concerns about the development (Photo by Terrence Thompson)

“A part over there [a fenced area where GWI currently has a well] was our play area but GWI took that and they said they will do up here and give us the field for the children and so on. It was high with bush but they said, ‘Don’t worry with that’ and explained that the Lion’s [Club] would adopt the area and we would get the park. When we think is the field going and start is only to hear that is a gas station and some mart. A gas station? Seriously?” another questioned.

While one resident did not object to her photograph being taken, all the others who spoke requested anonymity. Some explained that the businessman who is at the centre of the dispute is “very influential,” “well-known” and “big” and they feared possible victimisation.

However, they said they would be attending a meeting in the community on Saturday at 5 pm, and would openly discuss matters with the support of each other.

Last Saturday, CH&PA served Notice on Shamnarine Narine, who is the owner of Guyana Trac-tor and Equipment Company, for unauthorised construction at Plot ‘HN’ Industrial Reserve, Plantation Ruimveldt.

The CH&PA said in a press release that Narine was ordered to cease all activities (Development/ Construction work) with immediate effect under the Town and Country Plan-ning Act, Chapter 20:01 of the Laws of Guyana.

According to the agency, Narine submitted an application to the Central Housing and Planning Authority for full approval of Planning Permission on April 30th, 2018, to erect a two-storey building (25’ – 0 x 55’ -0) on both floors for commercial use as a Convenience Store on the ground floor and offices on the first floor and to install four fuel pumps and three underground tanks for Kerosene, Gasoline and Dieseline for use as a Gas Station.

On May 11th, 2018, the Convenience Store and offices were recommended for approval on condition that the developer amended plans in accordance with recommendations from the Ministry of Public Infrastructure indicating no access from Mandela Avenue, the release said.

However, CH&PA rejected the gas station on the grounds that” the site is still not appropriate for such a development since the site cannot be accessed from the Mandela Avenue which is the main thoroughfare. Access must be from a main thoroughfare, and the proposed means of access (Plumbago Street and the roadway) are minor streets that cannot function as means of ingress and egress since they are not suitable and inappropriate.”

No lease

This newspaper tried contacting Narine but calls to his phone went unanswered.

It is unclear if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave permission for the development of the gas station and efforts by this newspaper to ascertain that yesterday proved futile.

But while no mention was made of EPA approval, the Kaieteur News on Thursday reported of Narine’s frustrations as he said he believed that he had met all requirements for the go ahead.

Narine explained that the land was first leased by the Mayor of City Councillors of Georgetown and also by the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC).

Narine said that the same day he was served by CH&PA, Commissioner of Lands and Surveys Com-mission Trevor Benn notified him, in a separate correspondence, of an intention to repossess the land. He said that he was now left mulling his options.

But Benn told Stabroek News that while the Commission indeed notified Narine of its intention to repossess and refund him his monies, it must be made clear that the agency never leased the lands to Narine. Instead, it granted him what is called “A permission to occupy land.”

That document, according to Benn, is not a lease and GL&SC retains the right to terminate Narine’s permission to occupy.

The bigger problem, Benn believes, is that Narine’s case is just one of many that exposes that “too many persons are handling land matters.”  He said that what should stand out initially is that the Mayor and City Council has no right to lease state lands to anyone. “They are supposed to coordinate and manage the reserves. This is now an age-old problem when since the mid-1990s a lot of reserves were issued by them,” he said.

He pointed out that land along Aubrey Barker Road and other areas near where Narine had planned to erect his establishment have been “leased” by City Council.

Benn said when he took office in 2016, the GL&SC met with persons who had established businesses on reserves through permits from City Council, knowing they had invested time and money, and sought to work out arrangements. He said that like those persons, Narine’s arrangement with City Hall was made before he took office and he granted the permission to occupy to accommodate him. He was not aware at the time that the area granted to Narine by City Hall had already been designated for the Shirley Field Ridley Square playfield.

Meanwhile, residents of the area said City Hall and responsible agencies have to sort out the issue but in the end they expect that the promised recreational space will be afforded to them.

“It is time that big businesses know that ordinary people have rights too. Everything isn’t money. Our children play here. Come after 5 any day, you would see our children still playing like long time in the streets. Don’t they deserve an area too? That man already has all kind of reserves! Not this one, man. Oh, come on, not this one!” a senior citizen said.

“Here is already congested in the afternoon with traffic because you have New Guyana [the New Guyana School] people using that road to drive out. [If] you put a gas station there you don’t see what would happen here? You are looking at traffic deaths, more congestion and the works. Not here, not here,” another added.

But while residents are objecting, two vendors who own a nearby food stand said they believe Narine should be allowed to build.

“They should leave the man because if a gas station is over there, I was hoping I could get more work,” one said.

“He already invest and cleaned up the place. One set of bush was there and one time it had a big bee nest [hive] and the same children that saying they want play couldn’t even walk in peace. He clear up here. Look, let the man set up his thing. They give Japarts and Beharry on this same strip. Why he can’t get?” another questioned.

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