Notes From a Native Son: Thinking Big and Planning Small

Hal Austin

In almost every western country, agriculture’s share of gross domestic product has gradually decreased over time.Sometimes, even without any economic knowledge, this phenomenon is remarked upon by observers, such as the turning of many recent sugar cane plantations in to upmarket housing estates. Yet, despite this social and economic reality, which has been going on since the abolition of slavery, policymakers have failed to develop a comprehensive planning and land use policy. Instead, planning has been reduced to a micro-level administrative procedure, in which civil servants have taken the lead. Almost without exception, the town and country planning department has formed part of successive prime minister’s portfolio under successive governments, BLP and DLP. So the buck stops at the very top.

Given this, there is no excuse for the absence of a comprehensive planning and land use policy in operation. It is a failure that can only be put down to oversight, carelessness or a failure of ideas. But planning is a political, not administrative, process and the decision must be made by elected parliamentarians, who must be held accountable by electors for any failings. Civil servants may think and behave as if they are in charge, but as their positions suggest, they are ‘servants’ of the people, not their masters. And before we put in place a workable planning system, this procedural aberration must be resolved.

Development Thinking:
Despite a formally more sophisticated civil service and political class, Barbados has not reached the heights of major infrastructure development since the late Sir Grantley Adams built the Deep Water Harbour (Port) turned a small airfield in to an international airport and laid the ground work for what is now Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Projects such as the ABC highway, the recent refurbishment of the airport, Dodds and the – ah, what else is there?

The truth is, political tribalism apart, we have lost our nerve. In fact, I have said in one of my Notes, that even the BLP find it difficult celebrating Sir Grantley, who objectively has been the greatest political leader so far in our history. However, this post is not to push the case for Sit Grantley (St Giles and Harrison College), but to reflect on what should have been a central plank of our post-independence development, a national land use plan.

At just over 100000 acres, the Land Registry, Town and Country Planning and central government planning should have detailed plans and ownership of every inch of Barbados. The fact that there is no such comprehensive record, which should stake no more than six months (at the rate of about one acre a working day) to compile, even given the complexity of some ownership, speaks volumes about the way we are governed and the intellectual vision of people in charge.

An example of this is the application to develop Skeete’s Bay and the surrounding area by one Paul Doyle, whoever he is. Let us go back to first principles: Barbados is the home of traditional Barbadians, but as a tolerant people, we embrace people from around the world, as residents or visitors, to come and enjoy some of the natural joys of this little island.

Part of that natural beauty is the sea. However, over the years, but particularly since 1966, governments of all colours have recklessly given permission to property developers, individuals ands commercial, to build mansions right on coast of  the most beautiful parts of the island, thereby preventing the majority of people from enjoying the window on to the sea.

That municipal vandalism is particularly noticeable on the South and West coasts, now government is embarking on doing the same thing on the east coast. From Brighton to St Peter, and increasingly inward from the coast, Barbados is becoming a foreign land to its own people as governments worship the false economic God of foreign direct investments.

Had governments and policymakers a vision of the island, and how we best want to pass it on to future generation, they would not have a micro-planning policy that favours the biggest wallet. Further, had they even a vision of how to maximise that natural beauty, through infrastructural developments with a carefully drafted national plan, the warped debate over the Doyle plan would not even had taken place.

East Coast:
The South East and East coasts remain the only virginal areas ripe for development in Barbados. This can be done, with one over-riding principle in mind – that nothing be built on the coast to block the window to the sea. Given this, I will share with you an outline plan I first mentioned during a debate at the London high commission some months ago. Starting with what I called the Seawell town development, I thought the refurbishment of the airport missed an ideal opportunity to turn the airport and surrounding area in to a modern commercial and leisure precinct, with the airport as the hub.

First, the area now used as the car park is a waste of an incredibly useful location. That area could be used as shops, restaurants and bars and other forms of entertainment, not only for travellers but also for locals and others.

The car park could be moved to the east, above the present petrol station, along with a bus terminal, with access to Bridgetown and the West Coast, but also all over the country. Can you imagine our only airport has not got a bus terminal, only a poorly serviced bus stop?

Concorde could be moved even farther east as the key attraction in an area reserved as a aeronautical heritage site. Where the two rum shops are, across from the airport can be developed with a small low-cost business hotel with conference facilities.

Non-aviation business – shopping, dining, parking and advertising – is not only huge, but is one of the fastest growing business niches in the world. What makes this particularly attractive is that Broad Street, our main shopping thoroughfare, is rundown, and decaying, with many of the alleys running off the main street smelling of urinals.

Two examples of this is that two major airports not originally built with modern retail in mind, have now added those facilities. Frankfurt, for example, has 570 sq m of space for every one million passengers; and Heathrow 1050 sq m per one million passengers. I would also build a monorail, running from the airport to Ragged Point with a heritage theme park with a pier running from the lighthouse to Culpepper island.
The theme part would have rides and attractions, thrill rides, Ferris wheel, T-shirts, stalls, restaurants, food parks, a heritage site showing Barbadian domestic arrangement from slavery to the present, bed and breakfast, slides, ten pin bowling, an ice rink, video games, dodgems, trampolines, and others, with the lighthouse as a key attraction.

Based on the cost of trams in Britain and Europe, a monorail would cost in the region of £50m, about Bds$150m. That is less than the $180m the government has pencilled in for Four Seasons. The total development should cost less than the cost of Dodds ($700m and a lot less than the planned new hospital ($800m).

All this can be done with enfranchising ordinary Barbadians, both as the principal owners of the attractions, and as shareholders in the total development through corporate bonds. In addition, this is one of the few times that government should approach capital markets for a development loan.

A modern and progressive planning policy can be developed by first establishing a planning committee, chaired (ex officio) by the relevant minister; other members will be another four members of the ruling party, two from the Opposition party, two co-opted members of civil society, the chief planning officer (as committee secretary), a member each from the utilities (electricity company, water board and public works). Meetings will be held every six weeks and all planning applications received up to two weeks before the scheduled meeting would be considered by that substantive meeting.

Decisions will be announced as soon as possible through publication in national newspapers, and posted on the website of the town and planning authority. Unsuccessful applicants could have an appeal on review to a planning committee to parliament, failing which they could appeal to the high court, but only on a point of law. There should not be an appeal from the high court to the CCJ.

Analysis and Conclusion:
A recession is the ideal time for governments to stimulate the economy by creating new jobs and launching new projects that, as the economy recovers, would put Barbados in pole position to take advantage of the new situation. To play to the romantic in our policymakers, it may even make Barbados a more attractive tourist destination. First, however, we must realise that the application of planning policy to decision-making is political and is best analysed through public choice theory.

Basically, public choice theory posits that regulation is the outcome of competition between a small set of interest groups. A sustainable and progressive national planning strategy would include the development of Oistins as a commercial and entertainment town, the re-invigoration of Speightstown as a commercial and administrative town, Holetown as a heritage and commercial town, and the creation of at least three more commercial, administrative and entertainment towns – Six Roads, Four Roads and Boscobel.

The additional benefit of such a strategy is that the rush-hour traffic which at present clogs the main arterial road in to Bridgetown every morning, and out in the evening, will be substantially reduced, masking travelling an enjoyable experience. Such developments can be at minimal costs to both the public and private sectors.

34 thoughts on “Notes From a Native Son: Thinking Big and Planning Small

  1. @Hal

    Another excellent piece. Unfortunately the reality is that we are probably more interested in CLICO than how we can develop Barbados to sustain our prosperity. Sign if the times!

  2. Hal, this piece is an informative reminder of our physical infrastructural development over the last 50-60 years. Yes, it is true that the country has invested heavily in the human capital over the same period.
    But here are a few of the things we have to show for this massive investment:
    A few mansions and concrete ovens looking down and across at some of the most dilapidated and shanty living places especially in the inner Bridgetown and St. Michael area.
    It is true that there has been an astronomical increase in the number of privately owned vehicles on our makeover cart roads. But a valid reason for this traffic congestion in such a small island can be explained by the concomitant deterioration of the quality public transport. Barbados even up to the late 70’s early 80’s had an enviable and reliable public (bus) transportation system based on that of the London transport model. What do we have now? A chaotic, undisciplined, air and noise polluting PSV sector operating outside the rules and regulations of the Road Traffic Act with observed impunity.

    A parasitic “educated” class depending on a bloated public sector with no flowing creative juices or ideas on how to move this country forward and out of its current socio-economic quagmire as was the thinking and intellectual talent of the political directorate and executive in the time of Sir Grantley.

    Hal, what you are proposing for Bim would require a paradigm shift in the way we do business here. It would cut out a lot of inefficiencies, corruption and mis-allocation of our scarce financial and economic resources.

    This country’s tourism product is in need of a radical overhaul or make over. The sea is our main natural beauty and resource. Just look at the aesthetic value, environmental and recreational appeal the South Coast Board Walk has brought to that area (albeit limited and tarnished by the other blighted eyes sores of abandoned and overgrown hotel properties). Imagine this concept being extended to other parts of the island!
    Keep making your valued contributions. Maybe one or two might fall on fertile ground and bear fruit.

  3. Excellent piece Hal with limitless potential for the good of ALL BARBADIANS. But the way that the powers to be operates, this might never happen. They seem to work more towards, or about self, and less about what’s good for the people of Barbados. Forgetting who they are really working for in the first place. If these folks that are suppose to be working for the people don’t listen to the voices of the people for a change, and stop doing what pleases them. Barbados and BARBADIANS are going to be in a world of trouble with the island being taken over by outsiders with compliments of the decision makers who seem to be the only ones who’s profiting in the deals.

  4. Excellent article – we have to get behind these politicians before it is too late. The time is NOW. All o’ dem will be coming around soon……….

  5. Can’t say I would be in favour of turning Ragged Point into a theme park of the sort described above. To me it would be despoiling the natural beauty of the place. As I see it, the salt spray laden air up there would also tend to play havoc with everything from mechanical and electronic equipment to the outward appearances of paint and signage on the buildings and attractions. This would lead to significantly increased maintenance costs to keep everything maintained to a high standard to avoid having it turn into a run down, broken down, rusted out eye sore as I suspect would be the end result after a few years had gone by.

    Any idea how much energy it would take to keep an ice rink operating 365 days a year in 90 degree heat? I know it’s been done in some of the Arab states in the Middle East, but we don’t have their oil wealth to pay for it.

  6. On the subject of Ragged Point you could not want a more obsokey sight than a lighthouse in shambles and a Cell tower towering over it. It is the most non-aesthetic view one would want to see.

  7. Fred Kirschenmann – Soil: From Dirt to Lifeline

    Fred Kirschenmann has been involved in sustainable agriculture and food issues for most of his life. He currently serves as both a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, and as President of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. He also still provides management over site of his family’s 2,600 acre organic farm in south central North Dakota. He was recently named as one of the first ten James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards which recognizes visionaries in creating more healthful, more sustainable, and safer food systems.

  8. This is an excellently written article! It also puts forward some intriguing ideas for our country. Unfortunately I do not see it being put into operation, because of the political dispensation of the country! Even if this government would like to implement it, the opposition would make their election campaign the removal of the rum shops as the DLP wanting to get rid of the small businessman! There are also certain positions in the civil service that are untouchable and a certain school’s old boys have always run it like an old boy’s association! It would be a great idea – I especially like the idea of a monorail as I was thinking that we should revive the rail system. I totally agree with him about where the money should come from – especially the money they plan to put into that bottomless pit they call Four Seasons. I have already said that it should be called “All” Seasons as it has been going for so long! I wish that it would happen, but I would not hold my breath on it happening!

  9. The idea is to formulate strategies which fit our way of life, which play to our strengths and not be afraid to resist joining the crowd. Again good thoughts Hal.

  10. Its good to be able to think big but the writer seems to have ignored the very basis of his theory: land use planning. The cost of land acquisition is often the main factor influencing the decision to do or not to do, where things are located or what can realistically be implemented. In my opinion, a truly visionay government would put some time into addressing land ownership in Barbados, starting with the tenantries freehold purchase act which has moved far away from its intended position. But you could be guarenteed that that government would certainly be a one term government and therefore I can’t see any politician in Barbados who would be willing to do what needs to be done. Land reform = revolution = Mugabe = who in Barbados?

    • @mystified

      Given your view which may definitely be worthy it begs the question why do we need educated people responsible for policy making?

      Why do we need to educate our citizens?

      To what do we owe our reputation as a model small island state.

  11. David I often ask myself the same questions. Hal says that the politicians should be the ones creating the policies and visions then things would be different. Far as I’m aware that is the case today and look where that has brought us. I’ve seen civil servants put forward some visionary proposals that have been shot down from the said same politicians whose only interest is in getting re-elected. It is usually civil servants and the general population who raise concerns about windows to the sea, it is the politicians who approve those applications to have buildings on the coastline.

    I agree with Hal that the planning process needs to be revamped but not entirely in the way he suggests. I think that a planning inquiry should be a standard process for certain types of developments, and I don’t mean a town hall meeting, a proper enquiry that has an arbitration committee.

    On the matter of master plans etc, I am aware of several development plans that are sitting gathering dust going back to even before I was born. They have been ignored in favour of political expediency. I don’t think that the town planning department which is the agency to approve applications and enforce regulations is the same agency that creates the development plans, a clear conflict. Worse still, where an application is rejected, a person then appeals directly to the prime minister for reconsideration and without any consultation the prime minister makes a decision, its just crazy.

    Why are we a model state, because we have allowed our colonial masters to continue using this little rock as their play ground, dumping ground and laundermat at will and have raised no objections to it. In fact our political directorate has sought to facilitate it and the rest of us have sat silently and swallowed the rhetoric that it is the best way to develop this country.

  12. The National Physical Development Plan IS a comprehensive land use plan!!! What is required is ongoing policy statements that keep the planning framework dynamic and responsive; as well as horizontal integration across ALL public policy.
    Secondly, the further politicisation of planning permission is a recipe for DISASTER. Planning is governed by an Act of Parliament and decisions (as far as I know) are made based on the NPDP and other material considerations such as water zoningetc; and subjected to challenge under administrative law and other avenues. There is therefore no need for any committee of politicians determining planning applications.
    Any politicisation should be via policy statements (as mentioned previously) debated in Parliament, which once passed becomes ‘material consideration’ in determining applications.
    On the monorail idea, what of maintenance? Will the ridership be enough to support such an expensive project.
    undertaking? When you build a bus terminal what impact will it have on taximen?
    On your idea of a conference centre etc at the airport how do these uses complement the existing land uses? How do they fit into the existing spatial distribution of hotels and restaurants on the island?

  13. @enuff

    Your last comment was impressive but it seems not to gel with the obsokey development which we have witnessed in Barbados in the last 20 years. For example the Warrens area, the choking of our coastline, flooding caused by little rain, the tragedy in Arch Hall and the list is long.

  14. The same people that oppose the Paul Doyle plan at Skeete’s Bay are now supporting Hal’s. Plans that are similarly driven by economic benefits and that are sure to disrupt people’s way of life…lol.

  15. @ David
    Planning is NEVER perfect as far as I know, but our planning system needs to pay more attention to townscape and other urban design principles. Warrens for example, though a good location for a peri-urban centre, lacks character. The buildings are architecturally incohesive and the landscaping harsh.
    The majority of the projects on the coastline along the West Coast over the last 10-15 years were redevelopments of already existing properties.The biggest developments on virgin land have been inland–Apes Hill and Sugar Hill etc.And again it has to do with site planning and not necessarily the site itself. From what I have read about Paul Doyle’s project there seems to be some components–note I haven’t said the project as a whole is a good one.
    The issue you raised about flooding highlights the need for horizontal integration of policy. The last time I checked, the TPD was not responsible for analysing flood prone areas on the island; nor do they have the personnel to do such. Therefore they can only make decisions based on EVIDENCE. Same for Arch Cot–there are no geologist/geotechnical specialists at TPD, unless you are telling me they were aware of caves and possible cave ins.

  16. Why is everybody bashing one of the finest Civil Service in the Western Hemisphere ? There is little that can be done now to improve the airport. That should have been done the last time we spent millions on it. Again. Land mass is critical and we simply don’t have it in any great abundance.I am amazed that we can actually declare old ideas as new. I wonder where all these “brilliant” ideas were when the cupboard was over-flowing. where were all of these “save Barbados angels?” Where were they when we needed their voices. I guess they were busy singing How great Thou(Arthurt) art !!!

  17. @ William Skinner

    It is always easy to be a “Monday morning Quarter Back”. It takes a visionary to see ahead and plan the future but so far the previous governtments had none that is why the streets still flood. and the island is littered with concerte jungles and the poor have gotten poorer,because of the lack of vision we all will perish.

  18. W.Skinner
    I wonder where all these “brilliant” ideas were when the cupboard was over-flowing. where were all of these “save Barbados angels?

    The cupboard empty because of party party party and a decomposing coffin in St John..ok so hush or be hush.Get it here talking putrid and thumping thy chest.When OSA left the treasury has in $2 BILLION ask ac ..if you up there (ova n away) …so get the facts straight…now we have constituency councils that do nothings and $3 million Summer Camps and $14million signs and $9 million cark parks and $12 million football matches and ….I think you see why the cupboard empty….but (1)..yes one new school….ok wrong priorities.
    As for ideas…ask ac again.. (FBI)Funny D Bank of Idea went broke back in 2010.It nearly was taken in Receivership by the Eager 11 too…. but was stopped at last minute by info from a fat wayward school girl…looking after her own interest ..of SONNY get your fact straight….

  19. Even former PM is on record admitting that the model to finance Barbados is unsustainable i.e using real estate FDI to shore up tourist receipts and other forex inflows. The discussion is about revamping a tired model for development.

  20. Least I forget…….in conjunction Wid THIEFING TOO…ClICO..Mr Sunday morning chicken back….ask the pensioners….there already lining up to cast THEIR VOTES.

  21. Oh YEAH WE are here and singing LOUDLY TOO….How great THOU ART…..for OAS…when all that he can be compared with is a WEAK errant, lantin lingoed …POOR EXCUSE for a PM..joker…procrastinator .
    Even the onion looks better on resume than that DISPATCH.

  22. Having to plan and execute all of what the is being said requires lots of money . Money that was wasted in previous years. No one is denying that the plans are good. But sound leadership and good vision in the yesteryear’s when things were booming would have been required . which is obvious there was not any of it .After 14years we should have had all of what the writer is proposing in place a fact that cannot be escaped no matter or many ways and excuses make in trying to avoid it. At this point and time it would cost the taxpayers billions of dollars to do so and many would balked . Yes indeed we the taxpayer is paying a heavy price because of A LACK OF VISION by previous Governments.

  23. Mar’s best bet is to resign party and parliament , pay over the $3.3 millions take her children and her self esteem and GO TO St.Lucia and use the parachute $10 Mil… Dravid & Co..provided in case THIS HAPPENED….make a clean DIRTY break..(Hartley entry)

Leave a comment, join the discussion.