There will be no mass conversion of agricultural land in the districts stretching from St. David???s, Christ Church, to Six Cross Roads, St. Philip, where information is currently being gathered as part of the Community Plan process.

This assurance has come from Chief Town Planner, Mark Cummins, who said that while he was not trying to pre-empt the consultants, he was sure that if there was any need to change agricultural land it would be minimal.

Mr. Cummins stated: ???We are not seeking to have a wholesale conversion of agricultural land. We are looking to make sure there is some order to how the area is developed because that stretch, eastern Christ Church to St. Philip, is the fastest growing area in Barbados.

???We have to make sure that the services are there. St. David???s was chosen as a start point, not as a guess, but because of the large volume of applications that came in for the plantations around St. David???s, mainly Staple Grove and Hanson.???

He noted that a large number of vacant residential lots were located in this area, and stressed that it was not Town Planning???s intention to add to them. He explained that the Community Plan would look at the rationalisation of land use, so it could be determined with some degree of certainty, if the large number of applications for change of use was warranted.

???We have to make sure that there is a sufficient amount of land to ensure that there is a proper balance. The largest percentage of land in Barbados is always dedicated to agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture has indicated that about 30,000 acres of agricultural land is required ??? and wherever practicable, we will always be looking to ensure that the Ministry has the land so it can carry out its function.

???Food security is going to be of primary importance; the area is mainly agricultural and without predicting what the consultants will submit, there is no doubt in my mind that it will remain predominantly agricultural,??? he insisted.

Giving the background to what led to the signing of a contract earlier this year with Ecoisle Consultant Inc. and Open Plan to prepare the Community Plan, the Chief Town Planner explained that around 2002, his department saw a pattern of increasing applications coming in for the area.

He pointed out that it grew to the point in 2008 where it was felt that the requests were outside what was planned for the area and a decision was taken that a study should be done in an effort to make the most informed referral to the Minister, for the change of use of agricultural land.

The 10-year Community Plan will set out the various land uses – residential, commercial and agricultural – and guide development in the area, so that it is more orderly and progressive. The professional skills set of those executing the plan include urban planners, an agricultural economist, a geographical information system specialist, a traffic specialist, drainage engineers, and a trained expert in cultural and natural heritage.

The consultants are expected to conduct land use studies and are currently engaging the community in the planning process. One community meeting has already been held, and according to Mr. Cummins, while this concept might be novel to Barbados, it was not new to planning.

He explained that consultants go into the community before they begin developing the plan to get vital feedback from the residents, thus allowing them to participate in the process from inception.

???When the draft plan has been completed and submitted, it is at that stage that we are going back into the community, to give the residents some time to examine the plan, so we can get their views. Those thoughts will be incorporated into the document before we move to the final draft. Outside of the data collection, Ecoisle has to carry out data analysis, and liaise with numerous government agencies and stakeholders,??? he explained.

The Town Planner said the Community Plan should be submitted to his department in October this year, and pointed out that it would dovetail into the Physical Development Plan, which is in the process of being amended.??However, he wants all stakeholders, including residents and other members of the public, to actively participate in the planning process.

According to him, in this, the 21st century, it was crucial and sensible to involve residents because they live in the area and have a better knowledge of their community.??

???At Town Planning, we hold the view that unless stakeholders have a significant input into the process, then we are wasting our time. Planning is for communities; planning is about building communities; and we cannot build communities without involving the persons who reside in them,??? he stated.

Citizens of this country have always demanded a participatory democracy, where they can express their views on an array of topics. Therefore, they should not allow this opportunity to be a part of the shaping of the plan for St. David???s to Six Roads to pass them by, but rather, they should eagerly share their views, knowing that it is for the betterment of their community.

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