Faced with increased flooding, some of which is caused by indiscriminate development, both the Town and Country Planning Division (TCPD) and the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) say their ability to penalise offenders can occur only when reports are made.
In fact, the EMA says monitoring of these offences are the responsibility of TCPD and the regional corporations.
Responding to questions about the blocking and diverting of watercourses in South Oropouche which has exacerbated flooding, the authority said, “The EMA’s response has to be within the context of identifying agencies with primary responsibility for developments on land and approvals for any attempts to divert the main watercourse.”
The EMA noted that the TCPD and the respective regional corporations are among the list of primary agencies with responsibility for these development activities.
“Flooding is a by-product of several circumstances, namely deforestation, poor land-use practices, urbanisation, improper waste disposal, unplanned and unauthorised development, squatting and illegal quarrying, for which there is legislation specific to the aforementioned activities,” the EMA said.
Meanwhile, Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, under whose authority the TCPD falls, told Guardian Media the Government is also investigating the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to support inspectors and planners.
“On-the-ground monitoring of projects to ensure that developers are honest and follow the approved plans is being addressed through capacity building to provide the regional corporations and other agencies with the manpower needed,” Robinson-Regis said.
She noted that the digitalisation of the TCPD has started with an aim to improving service to the public.
“This transformation, in train since 2018, includes digitisation of legacy documents, the transformation of service and automation of the construction permitting process,” she added.
“As of June 2021, the TCPD has completed the large scale digitisation of 100,288 files and application documents as part of digitisation project, phase I, which covered its north and south regional offices. This achievement involved the digital conversion of 1,524 plotting maps; 2,935 subdivision layouts and 95,829 green file applications. Green file applications are for permission to develop land and consist of outline approvals and final permission for planning applications,” Robinson-Regis added.
She noted that this reduces the need for vault space, reduces the time taken to access TCPD data and legacy information and supports the Government’s digitisation agenda. Training of staff has also started.
“The other arm of the transformation process, DevelopTT, which is the automated construction permitting system, allows builders and developers to apply for planning permission, stamp duty exemption correspondence and status of land correspondence online. DevelopTT connects WASA, Drainage Division, Fire, the EMA and the regional corporations and allows users to track applications in real-time, make queries and receive up to date information on their applications,” she said.
She added, “This will allow the identification of potentially problematic development requests and allow the users and agencies to find a way to address them.”
Process of dealing with
illegal land development
The Minister of Planning and Development may, within four years of development being carried out without the granting of planning permission, or contrary to conditions stipulated in the planning permission, take enforcement action against the owner and occupier of the land.
This is the procedure:
• Complaint received from any member of the public with the required accompanying information
• Complaint File is opened at the respective TCPD regional office and assigned to an officer for investigation. This includes collecting relevant information and visiting the site
• If the statutory records indicate that planning permission has been granted for the development undertaken and the development conforms to the approved plans, the matter is closed
• If it is found that unauthorised development has indeed been undertaken, but the matter does not fall within the purview of the T&CP Act (eg, the site is within a river, drain or highway reserve; located on State lands, or development falls within the jurisdiction of the EMA); the relevant government agency is informed and the matter is then closed at the TCPD
• Otherwise, a letter of advice and is forwarded to the complainant, who has to respond within 28 days by submission of an application and or, for discussion of the matter
• Failure to comply by submission of an application, or of any requested information results in reports being prepared for submission to the Honourable Minister for consideration of enforcement action
• Once considered, the file is forwarded to the Legal Services Unit of the ministry for preparation of the enforcement notice. The file with the notice is forwarded by the TCPD to the Honourable Minister for signature. Once signed, the enforcement notice is served and a 56-day period is given for compliance
• Failure to comply with the enforcement notice results in the file being forwarded to the Legal Services Unit for preparation of the complaint without oath and summons to the defendant. The matter then proceeds to the respective magistrates’ court within the jurisdiction where the site is located, where it is adjudicated by the court
• The attending magistrate, depending on the result of the evidence provided, issues the relevant fines related to the charge and/or dismisses the case.
However, it should be noted that in all the matters before the court, the TCPD is requested to mediate with the offenders in order that compliance with the enforcement notice may be achieved.
How to make a complaint?
Those interested in reporting illegal developments and other violations can send an email to email@example.com or call the TCPD regional office.