The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) says “inclusive consultation” has to take place to resolve the situation at Arnos Vale where Physical Planning officials have demolished parts of two restaurants.
The party has tabled five points it says the consultation should consider even as it says that one of the restaurateurs is being punished for perceived disloyalty to the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP)
On Sept. 21, Physical Planning authorities demolished parts of Chill Spot Bar and Grill and Aqua saying that they had erected structures without the requisite permission.
For years, residents of the area have been complaining about noise, smoke and traffic congestion at Chill Spot, but the manager Lance Oliver, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Maferne Mayers-Oliver, said he had taken steps to rectify the situation.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told a press conference after the demolition that Planning officials were not satisfied that Chill Spot had done enough to remedy the situation.
Chill Spot has been ordered to cease operation, putting 26 persons out of work, while 15 jobs at Aqua have been placed in jeopardy.
Speaking at an NDP press conference last week, NDP President and Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, said the NDP believes “that a more inclusive consultation now needs to take place, with all of the other stakeholders, to arrive at a position of compromise on this matter”.
He listed five points that he said the consultation needs to take note of, the first of which is that the country’s planning regulations must be observed.
Eustace said that second is that the residents of the area are entitled to live in their homes without unreasonable nuisance, inconvenience and threats to their environment and/or their physical and psychological health.
He said the relevant public health and environmental regulations must be observed.
“The dismal state of the economy must be acknowledged and the loss of jobs in a situation of high unemployment and where businesses are closing down every month, must be a priority concern,” Eustace said, the fourth point that he said the consultation must consider.
“The local private sector and the local businesspeople willing to invest and take risks to develop businesses in SVG must be encouraged,” Eustace said.
He said a balance can and must be struck, for the sake of the entire community of Vincentians that is affected by this issue.
“This issue requires clear leadership — and if we, in the NDP, have to come here to provide that leadership today, then so be it,” he said, adding that it is the mission of the NDP “to provide clear, considerate and level-headed leadership on national matters”.
He said the party set out in its manifesto for the December 2015 general elections, its “comprehensive plans and programmes” in relation to the private sector, business development, jobs and economic growth.
“We can assure you that when we take our rightful place as the government of this country, we will continue to deal with such matters in a fashion that is consultative, measured and fair. The NDP administration will facilitate a truly consultative democracy that gives Vincentians pride of place in the economic development thrust of the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, speaking at the same press conference, MP for West Kingstown, Daniel Cummings, an NDP lawmaker, spoke of an
“apparent demolition” at Aqua, saying this was done “for the purpose of giving the impression that they are acting fairly and squarely”.
At Aqua, state officials demolished a structure where grilling took place outside the main building, but much of the restaurant operations are conducted inside the building.
Cummings, an engineer, who had been a member of the Physical Planning and Development Board for years, said he understands the purpose and functions of the board.
“And I understand the difference between planning under a real administration and planning under ULP because under ULP, Planning decisions are taken based on who the applicant is and the colour of your politics.”
He said there are local people who own land and have applied for tourism and other development and after eight years are called in and asked if the plan remains the same or if the applicant wants to reapply “because these people are not known to them to be supporting red”.
“That’s what passes for Planning,” Cummings said.
He said he understands that the residents have to live in an environment where they are not threatened.
“You all know not long ago the problems I had where I lived with noise,” he said of an incident almost two decades ago when he stoned a congregation during a service.
“We have an entitlement in our homes to be protected by the state. Fact!”
Cummings, however, said it doesn’t take rocket science to see that the problems identified by the residents are the easiest to solve.
He said that the NDP understand that the owner of Chill Spot had already taken certain steps to make sure the smoke doesn’t affect the residents anymore.
“The noise is a simple matter of structure that can contain the sound and operating within certain hours.
“But I want to suggest to you that the objective for tearing it down has nothing to do with Physical Planning violations. Look around where you live and see how many persons have been making violations and hundred times worst than that and they can’t touch them.”
He said that the majority of persons who do renovation and change of use in St. Vincent and the Grenadines do not apply for or obtain permission.
“But anytime — I want you to think about Cruickshank, I want you to think about Glen Jackson, and I want you to think of the restaurant in Arnos Vale. And I want you to see the common thread. They were ULP, they were strong ULP but there was a perceived breakaway from the ULP and the hammer came down. You draw your conclusion.
“You understand when the man called prime minister says these people are my supporters, you read between the lines. When you are a supporter of the ULP, you must be a supporter for life or you may have no life.”
Cummings said that the remedial measures were easy, adding that if the government wanted the restaurant to continue, they could have continued the dialogue and entered into agreement with the owners to do certain things.
“But the breaking down has nothing to do with Physical Planning and I am absolutely sure about that.
“It is the big stick coming down because yo’ ain’t toeing the line; yo’ getting out of line,” Cummings said.