Statement from Minister of the Environment and Drainage, Dr. Denis Lowe on the Issue of Vacant Lots Across Barbados
There has been a recent outcry in the public domain relative to the issue of unkempt vacant lots across the country. In the Ministry of The Environment, we have received several complaints from residents across Barbados about this matter. It is affecting all types of neighbourhoods across the country.
As Minister of the Environment I take full responsibility to address this issue and to give Barbadians a sense of what the Government is doing to give redress to such an issue. There are persons who over time purchased lots, invested in land, which is a good thing; that is not our concern; our concern is that when people invest in lots that some persons are leaving these lots unkempt. They are now bordering on abandonment. People who live across the street, or on the left or on the right of these lots are now having a most torrid time in dealing with the menace that has now been created because of the abandonment of these lots.
I just received an outline of a community ??? the Southern Heights community, where there are in excess of 25 lots that have not been developed, and they have been left, some with fully matured trees. This is duplicated across the country.
What is happening as a result is that people are having problems in their communities with rat infestation, rodent infestation, they are having problems with mosquitoes, there has been an increase in the mosquito population, they are having problems with illegal dumping on these vacant lots. There are now cases where prowlers are hiding out in these areas and attacking persons who are going about their normal daily lives in the communities. Children are at risk because you cannot now afford to let your children go out in the late evening and play because of these unsightly locations in the communities.
What I want to do is passionately appeal to persons who own these lots to move with some haste to clean them up. There are some people who believe it is the Government???s responsibility. If in one community there are 25 vacant lots, can you imagine when you go around the country and do a check on these areas how many lots you can come up with in need of clearing? The Government cannot take that kind of responsibility and will not take that responsibility. If you invest in land, even if you are living overseas, you should have some contact point where you can receive regular information about the state of your land. I believe also that when Government appeals as we have been appealing to residents and owners of these lots that there should be some regard for the government???s concerns. And persons who are guilty of abandoning these spots should come forth and take care of them.
The Ministry has taken a position that we have to take action now. I must say that we have spoken to the Ministry of Housing who has open areas of land around the country, some of which have been in need of clearing and we have spoken to them with regards to assisting them with our equipment where they have a deficiency of equipment to address those issues. The same message is true for Government agencies and Government employees. We have reached a stage in our society where we have to hold people accountable for their deeds. This is becoming a most unpleasant experience for the country where people have just completely ignored their responsibility.
I should also point out that from time to time developers in allocation of lots on their piece of land they leave an open area for recreational purposes. I believe wherever you go in every development there is a common area owned by the residents of that particular district or community for recreational purposes. I wish to inform or reiterate that it is not the Government???s responsibility through the National Conservation Commission or the Drainage Division to keep those lots cleared or to develop them.
I have had cases where in recent times people castigated the Government and the Ministry of the Environment for not coming to cut the grass and putting in infrastructure for play parks. That is really not our responsibility. That is the responsibility of the community to develop those spaces. I would say this from time to time we go in and we will prepare the site and we will even put in some infrastructure for recreational purposes, but that really is a gift from the Government.
What becomes very disheartening is when you go in, you clear these areas, you make them recreational ready, and then three months later you return and they are back in bush again and residents want to lambast their MPs for not being dutiful in making sure these things are being done, lambast the Government for not doing what it is supposed to do. The reality is it is not Government???s responsibility to manage these sites. Where we can assist residents in the community we will do so.
There is a wonderful story in a community where the residents in a community group requested a meeting with their MP, and in the course of the discussion the residents indicated that they raised per month $20 per household for the upkeep of their play park area. They lawn it themselves and they came to me and said they need some assistance because it was not a big community and they feared that for $20 per family per month it would take them about 10 years to raise enough money to do everything that needs to be done.
That is a story that you can???t ignore it and certainly it is one of those cases where the Government will step in and supplement to ensure that the services required are brought to bear on the community. I think more communities need to do that. That is how Barbados was developed. Barbados was developed on a village system where each member of the village took responsibility for the safety and upkeep of the village including the safety and upkeep of the children. We grew up in a society where there is a certain amount of accountability within communities for the safety and for the well-being of community members. I don???t think development, or upward mobility or the creation of new communities should really change that principal. I think that should continue to hold.
I ask myself as the Minister responsible for the Environment ??? what really is the next step in this appeal? The next step in this appeal is that where individuals have ignored the appeal of the Government to move with haste to correct this situation and remove the menace from society we are going to have to work with the relevant agencies to secure the correct information on ownership and have a published appeal that includes the names of land owners so that they can get the strong message that we are serious about this.
I know there has been conversation in the past where the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry responsible for land tax, contemplated a system where these lots would have a levy placed on them whenever Government steps in to clean them. That levy would also be attached to their land taxes and that when that levy is not paid persons who wish to move forward on the development or the sale of those lots would have to liquidate the outstanding debt brought against them because of this negligence. We still have to work out the legal details of that and we are now in the final stages of a new Environmental Management Act where we intend, with the guidance of the legal luminaries in Government, to include a section dealing with this matter because it is a critical issue.
We want to make our communities safe. We want to ensure that when people invest in land and develop their land and build their beautiful homes, that next door and across the street are not unkempt areas because it has an impact on the community, and in cases where it is not corrected, it has an impact on the value of people???s property. This is a simple attempt to say to Barbados let us work together to keep Barbados clean and let us always put Barbados first.