The Chief Town Planner Of Barbados Comes Under The Microscope If We Are To Examine The Cause Of The Tragedy at Brittons Hill In Barbados


Town Planning Office-Garrison, St.Michael

On Day 4 when recovery efforts stalled because of the need to stabilize the interior of the cave it provided cause for Barbadians to reflect on the tragedy which occurred at Britton’s Hill on the weekend. How could it have been avoided, or could it? We find it interesting that in the current BU Poll Barbadians appear to be divided on how the government has managed the tragedy to date.

In previous articles we have highlighted the roles of the Public Prosecutor, Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee; we think the Chief Town Planner’s role in the Britton’s Hill tragedy must be investigated as well.

Many Barbadians who have grown up in the area thirty or forty years ago have been contributing to the blogs their recollection of building practices back then. Today, after reading some of the comments on Barbados Free Press the consensus of opinion suggest that years ago residents of Britton’s Hill avoided construction on the area of the cave where the tragedy occurred. The obvious questions being asked post 26/8 must be__ has there been a departure from how construction is currently being done (in the area of the cave) when compared to the past?

A quick explanation could be a simple case of supply and demand. It is well documented that Barbados is currently suffering from an extreme case of land being sold at extraordinarily high prices. Somehow BU feel that it was more a case of good judgment being exercise by authorities at the time which was influenced by the local knowledge. It is not BU’s intention to engage in the blame game but we do subscribe to the notion that mistakes should be learned from and corrective steps adopted. The following quote from the Town and Country Act of Barbados Section 240.11 (1) is our attempt to bring some clarity to how such an incident might have been avoided and importantly to stop a similar tragedy from recurring.

11. (1) At least once in every five years after the date on which a development plan for the whole of the Island comes into operations, the Chief Town Planner shall carry out a fresh survey of the Island and submit to the Minister a report of the survey together with proposals for any alterations or additions to the plan that appear to him to be required.

The quote is written in simple language. The law obviously mandates the Chief Town Planner to perform a survey every five years which would influence physical development in and around Barbados. Commonsense tells us that the Chief Town Planner would have to be guided by feedback from rank and file Barbadians who would be privy to anomalies in their physical environments. In our lifetime, the BU household has never heard of any group of Barbadians having to relocate because the five year Town Planning Survey suggested some defects in the physical surroundings. But wait! When was the last time such a survey was done?

BU quote a commenter name “geographer” to illustrate the importance of the Town Planning Survey. Even if we assume that the cave’s surface was “safe” for construction at some point in the past, continuous assessment of the area is a must given the geology of the area.

I suppose a situation like this would have happened sooner or later. It could be a perfectly natural occurrence, precipitated by groundwater extraction, that is common in karst regions (any place with limestone geology, riddled with caverns like a swiss cheese). This process, called cave roof collapse, produces what we call a collapse-doline or collapse-sinkhole, and occurs when the cavern roof can no longer support itself. Sometimes this occurs due to a loss of pore-water pressure or bouyancy when groundwater is extracted, though they are other, more natural, causes.vther causes could be of a seismic nature, where construction, for example could set up tremors that could destabilise the cave roof. This particular collapse will likely be found to be due to a combination of factors. Most of the dolines in Barbados are solution dolines and are not as dramatic as this one. In Jamaica and Belize there are several spectacular collapse holes. This process of collapse is common in Florida and South Africa today, and sends up home insurance premiums.

Did the residents in the Britton’s Hill area communicate their local knowledge of the caves to the Town Planning department over the years? If this question is answered, who the cap fits will become apparent. BU investigation primarily based on feedback from residents of the area suggests that the Town Planning department are aware of the Britton’s Hill cave.


This being the case , we find the Town Planning department need to answer the big question. When was the last Town Planning Survey done?

Related Stories

Here is Barbados Free Press perspective in the aftermath of the Britton’s Hill tragedy.

Update:The Rescue Effort At Brittons Hill In Barbados Continues…NOW Changed To Recovery- (Barbados Underground)

Brittons Hill Barbados – Apartment Building Collapse Into Known Cave – Family Of 5 Trapped – US Miami Dade Rescue Team Goes To Work-(Barbados Free Press)

Barbados Apartment Collapse – Day 3 – Damaged Building Knocked Down, Work Continues-(Barbados Free Press)

43 thoughts on “The Chief Town Planner Of Barbados Comes Under The Microscope If We Are To Examine The Cause Of The Tragedy at Brittons Hill In Barbados

  1. back then the area was gully and trees. the idea to build over there never came into question. it would be good to know if TP dis that survey and what was the recommendation.

  2. Did the residents in the Britton’s Hill area communicate their local knowledge of the caves to the Town Planning department over the years?

    1. There is a possibility that those living in close proximity during recent years may not have been familiar with the area?

    2. Given the big heads in Gov’t positions that believe that they can do what, when and how they want, it seems that whether residents voice their opinions or not, they would have been given a deaf ear/ignored, knowing the MO of most Gov’t officials. There is a saying, “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission,” which might be the theme to this disaster.

    3. I would be surprise if and/or when Town Planning were doing their research/analysis to determine whether permission should be granted in the issuance of a license to erect any type of Building in that area, or anywhere for that matter, they poll residents in the neighboring areas by sending out a notice informing them of the potential structure, and asking if there was any objection, and to state the reason.

    4. Was there a notice posted on the property that a building/s will be coming soon, so that the surrounding neighbors would have time to react one way or another?

    5. The Govt, TP, may want to, on a going forward basis, publish in the newspaper and community spots their intent to issue a permit for construction in a specific location. This may help to avoid unforeseeable issues/concerns/ disasters.

    This is a hell of a lesson for TP to learn at the detriment of an innocent family. How costly a lesson is left to be known. I would expect the Gov’t to step up to the plate — forget pointing fingers and do the right thing, financially.

  3. In the 20’s thru the 60’s, people just did not build along that side of the area, knowing there was a gully, as it was referred to back then. I remember as a pre-teen, stopping by after school, stepping over the area, which was fenced and pelting up in tamarind and dunks trees. There was some sweet tamarinds called Mellowry (sp) down inside there. LOL.

    In terms of the law, I can’t remember seeing any postings or warning signs, such as, “Do not Enter,” etc. It was via word of mouth that most of us learned that the area on that side was gully, but as kids, many of us did not really know the dangers.

    I would be disapointed to hear that there were no land records showing the layout of that section. However, I would go to my grave saying that NO BUILDING should have been built there, for the simple reason, I would think that with today’s technology and equipment to test soil, surroundings, etc., it should or would have provided a MORE accurate reading to determine the condition of the area.

    It seems to me that the top folks today who are in charge believe that they know it ALL, and that they have ALL the ANSWERS. In my opinion, they take too many risks, and unfortunately with people lives at stake — this tragedy being a clear example of this.

  4. I have read some really true statements here. People in power feel that they know it all and in all honesty I believe that the residents making any kind or suggestions as to the building of homes there would have made a difference. In my heart the Town Planning division of government is to blame, since they are the ones who have all the say when it comes to land. They make the lives for the poor bajans a living hell with all the red tape. They have laws that are for only the poor folk of Barbados. I know that I serve I living God and he is in control and all the deceptive and deceitful games that have been played on the poor people of Barbados over the years will be avenged. The sadness about all this that when the tragedies happen the so-call people at the top are never the ones who get hurt. I do get my relief from knowing their punishment will be a everlasting and forever

  5. We know a family who bought a house in that area and the house is outfitted with 8ft swimming pool. Imagine he had to excavate 8-9 feet down, and he had the TP approval.!

  6. Adams said he was aware of planned construction at the rear of the apartment but whether or not the work had begun, the cave would have still given out because water was also weakening the area.

    We find the comment above an indictable statement, Mr. Ralph Adams in a revealing commentary in the Tuesday Nation admits that the authorities should have been aware of the potential danger. The big question we have for Mr. Adams would be what steps he took to inform residents and Town Planning of the findings of the survey results. We expect that law suits will be filed like never before seen in Barbados.

  7. Of course the TCP and minister responsible should be sued for neglect of duty.
    This is a disgraceful act of carelessness on their behalf.

  8. We expect that law suits will be filed like never before seen in Barbados.

    And rightfully so!! I wish these suits could be criminal and not just civil suits, or both. I just hope that the attorneys who take on these cases have STRONG backbones. Stop the negligence; curb the greed.

    …the TCP and minister responsible should be sued for neglect of duty.
    This is a disgraceful act of carelessness on their behalf.

    Wishing in Vain, I could not agree with your comment more.

  9. thank you but yes someone in authority needs to be brought before the courts and tried for this matter, I have no doubt about it, they need to find a real lawyer to take up the challenge and fight the gov’t.

  10. I vaugely remember that the apartment building could have belonged to a lawyer befor he sold it. I think people say it is the lawyer with one foot. Also I know when I took a walk through there a few days before that it was COW people who were drilling. I am sure I saw the logo. Can anyone confirm?

  11. Reading all the reports there seem to be a big flaw in the system. Town Planning require drawings from a certified architect and the bank requires a quantity surveyor to provide reports. We have been trying to find out what role an engineer should be able to play and we cannot.

    At this point it is left to commonsense for a builder to know that an engineer should be employed.

    Who should be blamed for this flaw?

  12. David…
    Blame the one who said that the other “wild boys” can’t run the Government. He has the final say on Town Planning matters. Ask him if he knows whether or not surveys are done, and if TP is adhering to any kind of national development plan.
    Looks to me like the “wild boys” are in charge at the moment.
    Local knowledge informed me that when he was a boy growing up in Brittons Hill, there was a mouth to that cave and the youngsters descended into it and explored the caverns. At that time there were very few houses. The mouth was later filled in by some sort of “approved construction”. Said when they threw rocks at parts of the cave ceiling, bits of stone would fall.
    TP may be aware somewhere in their files of this cave, the issue is whether they care enough about average Barbadians to do their job properly.
    I have developed over the years a particular view of this department, its chief, and its role in the hands of Government. Let’s just say this is one department that must remember the awesome responsibility that comes with power, and that undue or corrupt political influence tends to erode responsible duty.

  13. As I reminisce on the sequence of events as reported by several sources including the media, there are several unanswered questions, which has been floating through my thoughts.

    I wonder if we, the public, would ever get the TRUTH from Town Planning and all those involved in the construction of those homes.

    I could understand all players not wanting to incriminate themselves of such a horrible misjudgment, but there are situations, such as this, where the truth needs to be known.

    This disaster was not the lost of trees that blew down and/or fell to the bottom of the earth. It was the lost of human lives – an entire family; not forgetting the many displaced families.

  14. Do you think the Barbados government did enough to save the Codrington family?

    Yes (100)
    No (78)
    Don’t Know (13)

    Total votes: 191

    Interesting to note, the results of the BU poll currently running shows a surprisingly high difference in opinion on how the government handled the situation. It is about perception and it is of BU’s opinion that if we look pass the obvious grand standing by some government officials the government has done a good job in trying circumstances. The post collapse management will be under the microscope now.

  15. David 100 / 78 would not reflect great confidence in their handling of the matter, I beg to differ this indictes a large portion of those being upset about the way this was handled with only 21 more out a hundred agreeing it says to me that people were disgusted with the handling.

  16. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Barbados: Answers for Britton's Hill

  17. Ppl can only base their opinions on what they have been told; a possiblity that some of the statements could have been embellished to make the story either look good or not so good.

    I don’t think that the question can be answered truthfully, unless we are told by the Government all the steps in order (maybe with timeframes) that they took from the time someone in their capacity received word of the disaster.

  18. Very good comments Former Resident, I think as BU has posted here that they have tried to relate this event to the magnatude of the WTC (which it is not) with their reference to the site as ground zero now revised to state Hotspot.
    They have dragged their feet for way too long to extract every bit of media coverage available to them this is a very sickening method of operation as I have said before I am sure that they are many others more informed and more capable of updating the press as opposed to the 3 or 4 Gov’t ministers that have made it their duty to be ever present when the press are around.
    Now who was doing the bulldozer work on the site nearby and what propmted them to call for an engineers report on this location?
    It all sounds very fishy to me, but I am sure as most things evolve in Barbados some payments will be effected and the issue will dissappear.

  19. WIV, 56% of those with opinion say they are satisfied. sows those that think they didn’t are in minority… in a democracy majority rules…. I think?

  20. I would put it to you that the result of that poll cannot be considered a resounding success of the way in which it was handled.
    Even after all the media appearances and exposure and hype that was the final rating on Marshall’s handling of this incident it is a sad reflection of the job he has done on, I would hasten to add his ceditability would have suffered greatly by having Lynch over his shoulder constantly and his silly response of laughing to the question when he was asked.

  21. If you want me to seriously consider that this was outstanding success for the gov’t Lynch, Marshall, Prescod then my suggestion would be to show me a much more in favour rating 100 for 78 against that is a failure if ever there was one, with something such as thie event you will either have a large majority who say it was successful or a large majority who says it was a failure, seeing that he failed to get a large majority the suggestion of failure looms large in front of him.
    My verdict is that they overworked the media outings and overkilled the goodwill by blatanly exposing their willingness to put party before the people and the peoples needs.
    Lynch is certainly a prime example of this nonsense.

  22. The high degree of politicizing of that Town Planning department has become legendary. The reason why Arthur maintains a tight control should be obvious. The importance of the TP department must be evident now in the wake of the Brittons Hill incident.

    In the same way the Transport Authority is to be set-up so too we need the long awaited Town Planning Authority.

  23. I would not hold my breath for it under this adminstration, this the avenue from which Owing extracts his retirement funding.
    You remember the fiasco of that Holders land where aqnd company made millions with his signature to change the use of the land, why would he want to do anything to alter status quo.

  24. I am appalled by the comments of Dale Marshall this afternoon… “Nobody is to blame. It could have happened to anyone, anywhere in Barbados.” Is he in a state of denial; is he attempting to skirt the issue at hand?

    I agree that accidents could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime when an area being built on is unsuitable for construction. Dale Marshall knows as well as many others that Town Planning should be considered negligent in issuing a building permit in areas substandard for development.

    With limited information at this time, is it safe to say that if the land were examined, Town Planning’s failure to properly access the area resulted in the issuance of a construction permit in an area which should never have been developed. A proper land assessment would have avoided this disaster.

    Dale Marshall should stop attempting to rub filth in people’s mouths and to convince them it is sausage; stop burying his head in the sand if that is his MO to get away from facing facts. There is no need to be deceitful by telling the people what he thinks they want to hear and would accept.

    Is there a law that a person can build anywhere s/he likes without permission from a Government Agency/TP? Can a person build on family land that may be vacant for many years because it is available, without going through a Government Agency/TP? The answer is NO!! Therefore, I find it difficult to understand his stance.

    I would be able to understand the “no one is to blame” comment, if people were allowed to build anywhere, and/or it was not mandatory to have land/area examined by the proper Licensing Board/TP, before a building is erected; in addition, if Town Planning only get involved when requested for a fee. We all, or most of us know that is not the case, and would be quite stupid.

    If it were Dale Marshall’s family/relatives in this preventable accident, would he have been making the same comments to the public — I doubt it. As the saying goes, “we don’t know how tight the other person’s shoes fit until we wear them. ”

    Btw, why is it that the Government/TP or whomever did not take the time to include a geo-technical and an engineering team to do a risk assessment to and beyond the area, as part of the decision process before granting a building permit?

    This disaster shows that Barbados Government has a lot of catching up to do.

  25. Dale Marshall is a “johnny” or what,how he mean nobody ain’t to blame?,look i hear it is C.O. Williams that was doing the construction,you mean because he big around here that he can’t get sue along with the idiots that approve the building,come on now bajans,you all going to let these people ride you all like real jackasses forever?

  26. If the Codrington’s have to bring in outside people to lay a suit against government and C.O.W. so be it,look through the right channels and let’s help them as much as we can,that is what bajans need to do.

  27. “I can’t sit here and tell you your school is a safe environment,” Farrell said. “It would be hypocritical to do that.”

    This earth shattering statement was made by Dr.David Farrel a geo-physicist and hydrologist to 300 parents at the St. Cyprians School last evening.

    [Read More]

    Also Wayne Norville who has been rescuing animals in his role at the RSPCA slams the government in this Nation article.

  28. Amazing that Lennie St.Hill telling people to go check their foundations. What did he do when he was Chief Twon Planner? Barbados is one fuxked up place.

  29. Last I heard the law courts were checking Lennie St. Hill house. Lennie is one effed up fellow I never understand what he is babbling about.

  30. David,
    Consider this possibility….

    We just witnessed a major disaster by any standards -and definitely by Barbadian standards.
    Who was the expert or trained professional in charge of the situation?
    Was it the Fire chief? Was it a specially trained event manager from the fire service?
    Was it the BDF? If so, who? And with what training and authority?
    Was it the police? Or was it CERO (or what ever the new name is)?

    From all indications it was The MINISTER of home affairs….. HELLO?!?
    Why are you surprised that evidence may have been handled badly?
    That everything took so long? That the media arrangements were so pathetic?
    Last I heard the AG was a lawyer – trained to play games in court. At least in the Prison fiasco Mia had the police and army chiefs tagging around behind her like two puppets..

    But here is the real problem…
    LACK of decisive leadership by trained, accountable professionals… There should have been SOMEONE who has been trained and prepared to deal professionally with such a situation. Who is professionally responsible for the actions and outcome… not some minister who probably can claim good intentions but general ignorance.

    Now tell me – what is different about almost everything else that is NOT working in Barbados??? We have settled for incompetent leadership at all levels, for too long.

    Flyovers – Gline Clarke
    Greenland – do we even know which one?
    Airport – Mary
    World Cup – Mostly Owen and Mary but all ‘o we was fuh’ cup

    But there are exceptions-
    With QEH we have a medical professional in charge, but how come, based on the results achieved to date, we don’t see him fired?
    Owen has also staked his reputation (and this country’s future) on CSME….. we will see how he does when elections are called…

    There is a famous saying…
    “We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.”

    If we continue on this path we may well have to do ‘everything with nothing….’

  31. i dont believe that the chief towm planning officer should be held responsible.These buldingswere there long before his time ,i am not even sure one can lay blame,i am greatful that all bodies were recovered,thumbs up to thoes men who risk their lives ,

  32. CH, if the Chief Town Planner was not part of the department during the inspection and time of construction, or wasn’t involve in the project in anyway, I would be willing to cut him some slack. But, that does not mean that the department should not be held fully or partially accountable. Only time will tell.

  33. The following response was received via email:

    Many people are angry including Wayne Norville a friend of mine whose comments you sent to me earlier in a previous article. The District Attorney and others will come with all kinds of justifications for not allowing the residents to go in, some say for fear of further collapse and lost of life. I am not interested in putting anything in the Nation News. ‘Bajans are too smart for their own good.’ A lot about the culture and behavior annoys me. I will let the know-it-alls deal wid dat.

    However, I agreed with Wayne that the locals that roam those caves should have been given a chance to rescue with ropes tied around their waists, bottle water, walkie-talkies, flash lights, and even hand pecks. They even said that these caves run to other exits hundreds of yards away, so the locals if unable to turn back can exit the cave on the other side. Barbados must have an Emergency Management Team, it is not like the Coal Miners in Utah that are 2 miles in the Cave and have been trapped for weeks. These folks as you said were 100 ft. of less, and it is a cowardly act by those first responders not to try and help those people. And the Bajan Police and Army could have been shocked and traumatized themselves, since the only action they saw was 30 years ago when “big plane was unloaded to shoot Vincentians” (see Gabby) . But what we must bear in mind is, the injuries had to be life threatening, because if they were just trapped in a room or space with a few broken bones or cuts and was able moan or yell, I am sure the Rescue Workers would have gotten them out.

    This is very heart breaking, especially if they were just knock unconscious from the blow or traumatized and was unable to respond to rescue workers, thus sending the wrong message that they are not alive which forced authorities to switch from Rescue to Recovery. Those reasons I just mentioned would support the argument that the neighborhood men should have been given a chance to assist with the rescue effort since they know the Cave and could have exit on the other side if the cave started to further collapse.

  34. Pingback: A Clear Danger-Where Is The Town Planner « Barbados Underground

  35. I have a home under construction in Barbados at Southerland Hill,St.Lucy. Construction was in May 2007 for a revise plan, we got the revise plans and sent them in . One to the health department and one to the Planing Department,the health Department gave the OK but we’re still waiting on your department. Please help ! my cement is getting hard. I thank you for your attention to this matter. Frank N Harris

    Mr. Harris have you called the department and ask to speak to a Planner? If not please do so at your earliest convenience.


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