Local architect complains about lengthy delays in Town & Country Planning Department
The Town & Country Planning Department has come in for renewed criticism, with one architect complaining today that it still takes about two years for him to get any beachfront applications approved for construction projects.
However, in an immediate response, the Acting Chief Town Planner George Browne argued that the situation had improved over the past three to four years and that during the second quarter of this year, the majority of applications were processed within three months time.
Speaking at a Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) seminar on Town Planning – Facilitating Business, architect Mark Hiorns described the current situation as unacceptable, warning that it urgently needed to be addressed.
Hiorns also said while it may be true in theory that the department had improved in terms of its processing of applications, it certainly was not the case in practice.
And he queried what were the causes of the lengthy delays.
Making reference to an application he submitted in January this year “for a large project”, Hiorns said it was after six months that he was informed that a geotechnical survey was needed, despite being informed initially that his application was completed.
And with the project about “nine months behind”, Hiorns said he feared it could take another year before a decision was made.
The architect of over 35 years said his experience was that all planning applications took “at least two years” for a decision to be made, pointing out that they were not always likely to be approved.
“At this stage, with the economy as it is, I am very concerned because my client has expressed an interest to get started in April next year,” the architect said.
“Things change and in two years things can change dramatically and people can change their minds about projects they want to do. Opportunities can be lost and I really feel that the process needs to be addressed urgently,” he stressed.
In responding to Hiorns, Browne did acknowledged that some applications take longer to process than others.
However, he assured the gathering that his department was currently processing applications much faster than before. He reported that between April and June this year, 86 per cent of the applications submitted were processed within less than 90 days.
Browne did not specify how many of those projects were commercial or residential. However, he did reveal that during the last financial year, which ended in March of this year, Town & Country was able to process 63 per cent of the applications submitted within a period of 120 days. This compares to 67 per cent in less than 120 days during the previous financial year, he said.
The acting Chief Town Planner also pointed out that applications which involved an impact assessment study could take longer than those which did not.
“But I can assure you, and our statistics [are] there to bear fruit, that we have been able to, over the last three to four years, process applications in a much faster way,” he stressed.
As part of the application process, he said officials of the department encouraged discussions with the developers prior to the submission of applications. This was in a bid to ensure that they were informed of any other documents or processes that were needed and to avoid delays.
In further defence of the Government agency, which has been a source of bitter complaints from many business people, he said Town & Country continued to implement measures to improve efficiency.
Some of those measures include the scanning and archiving of applications, which aides in faster retrieval of applications, a fast-tracking system, a platform for electronic submission of applications, as well as continuous training of staff.
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