Comissiong triggers suspension of multi-million project
After receiving the conditional go-ahead last month, the proposed $100 million Hyatt hotel development earmarked for Bay Street, St Michael and on which Government has been banking much economic hope, is now back in limbo.
Wednesday, the Supreme Court set aside May 9 as the date for the hearing of a fixed date claim, filed with the Registrar this afternoon by attorney-at-law David Comissiong.
A confident-looking Comissiong, supported only by former parliamentarian Mark Williams, ascended the steps of the High Court promptly at 1 p.m. Wednesday to lodge the legal challenge to the construction, which, after several delays, won approval on February 15 from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who has responsibility for Town & Country Planning.
The latest development, which results in immediate suspension of permission until the matter is heard by the court, therefore comes as a major blow for both the developers and Government, who have been eager to get the project going, amid domestic economic challenges.
However, speaking to reporters immediately after filing the claim, Comissiong was adamant that the Prime Minister had acted incorrectly on the matter.
He also said he would file an urgent interim order as early as tomorrow in support of his legal claim, which is based on 12 grounds. These include the failure to have public consultations or to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on the multi-million dollar beachfront development, he told reporters gathered at the Clement Payne Centre on Crumpton Street, The City.
The outspoken attorney and social activist also dismissed recent arguments by Chief Town Planner Mark Cummins that there was no need for an EIA on Hyatt, since one was previously done for a similar development in the area.
“What I gather from what was said is that ten years ago there was an application by some other entity to construct a hotel at some different site along Bay Street and that the entity was required to carry out an environmental impact assessment.
“If that is the case, then it establishes that a project of this nature requires an environmental impact assessment,” Comissiong argued.
“An EIA done by somebody else for some other project ten years ago cannot be Mr Maloney’s EIA. That is incorrect,” he stressed, in reference to developer Mark Maloney, whose involvement in the project is another sore point for Comissiong.
However, he expressed confidence that any of his 12 grounds could stand up in court, while questioning the legitimacy of the Prime Minister’s determination on the project, given that there is currently no Town & Country Planning Advisory Committee in existence, as required under Section 1 of the First Schedule of the Town & Country Planning Act.
The attorney also argued that Stuart had relied on an outdated Physical Development Plan, even though Section 11 (1) of the Town & Country Planning Act stipulates that the plan, which is now 14 years old, must be updated every five years.
“Ground three [of the claim] states that not only was the minister supposed to have regard for the Physical Development Plan, but since [the Hyatt project] is a coastal development, he also was obligated to have regard for the Coastal Zone Management Plan of Barbados.
“The law also says that similar to the Physical Development Plan, the Coastal Zone Management Plan of Barbados is to be updated every five years [but] again this was not done.
“So one of the good things that is going to come out of this case is that it is going to reveal that the authorities in Barbados have not been adhering to the regulations that require them to update these plans,” Comissiong told reporters.
He also took issue with the 15-storey elevation, pointing out that the maximum height allowed for beachfront hotels was five storeys, compared to the seven storeys for non-beachfront tourist accommodation.
Comissiong further noted that over the years applications for developments above the stipulated elevation were consistently turned down on the grounds that “such structures would negatively affect the visual amenity of the locale”.