Judge stops Friendship road project in Tobago

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Work ongoing at the Friendship Connector Road. – Photo courtesy DIQUD

ONE day after Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development (DIQUD) Trevor James said the THA had no time for lengthy consultation with residents affected by the $70 million Friendship Connector road, a High Court judge has stopped the project.

Derek Hearn and his sister Serina Hearn, residents whose property is affected by the construction of the 2.7 km dual-lane road, were granted an injunction on Wednesday by Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell. The project, according to the division, is 75 per cent complete.

The Hearns own an estate at Friendship Road, Canaan, comprising an organic farm, stable, apiary, an old wooden house, well and two mills.

Speaking with Newsday on Wednesday, Serina Hearn said, “Today, we went before the High Court and Judge Honeywell, and we were able to get an injunction to stop all work on the road. So all work is to be stopped.”

In their application for judicial review, the Hearns say that on May 14, 2023, workers from a construction company called California Stucco Company Ltd arrived at their property, informing them of the plan to build a road.

“The applicant was not given any prior notice of the intended works, was not consulted about same and was paid no monies by the respondent for the purchase of any part of his portion.”

The Hearns said work also began around the property, which negatively affected their business.

Work at the site was eventually halted in May after a complaint by the EMA over the Assembly’s failure to get the requisite approvals to start roadworks.

Then, Justice Frank Seepersad dismissed the THA’s objection to the High Court proceeding with the EMA’s complaint as it was the THA’s position that the better forum to hear the EMA’s complaint would be the Environmental Commission and not the High Court.

The EMA had approached the High Court with its complaint that the assembly did not get the requisite approvals to start roadworks and obtained the injunction to stop any continuing work on the project until a certificate of environment clearance application was lodged and approved. Thereafter, the THA applied for the CEC.

The Hearns’ application notes that on September 6, 2023, a Certificate of Environmental Clearance was granted to the DIQUD but with specific stipulations, which they argued the THA failed to meet.

“By virtue of clause 9.2 of the CEC, the respondent (through the DIQUD) was under a duty to consult with applicant in respect of the construction of the roadway because the applicant is a major stakeholder affected by same.”

The Hearns note that on December 10, 2023, construction and demolition took place, which damaged their property significantly.

The Hearns were represented by attorneys Christophe Rodriguez, Rishi Narine and Joash Huggins representing Derek Hearn and Serina Hearn

In their request for declaratory relief, the Hearns also said the THA’s decision “to take possession of, conduct and continue to conduct construction/demolition works on…Friendship Estate without obtaining planning permission pursuant to section 8 of the Town and Country Planning Act Chapter 35:01 is unauthorised and contrary to law.”

The Hearns also argued that the THA’s lack of consultation was “in breach of the principles of fairness, unreasonable, irregular and/or improper; and in breach of the legitimate expectations of the applicant/intended claimant.”

The claimants also said that the Land Acquisition Act Chapter 58:01 was also breached by the THA.

In an interview with Tobago Updates on Tuesday, James argued that Mr Hearn had “no rights” to any land at Friendship.

He said, “In terms of Mr Hearn, people forget the estate was acquired under compulsory acquisition in 2009. Whatever rights Mr Hearn thinks he has came to an end when the government acquired this through compulsory acquisition. The law also says that to have any right to state land you have to be in occupation of state land for 32 years. Mr Hearn, at best, is a temporary squatter and has no claim to any land in Friendship. That’s not me, that’s what the law says.”

However, in the Hearns’ claim, they argued that two portions of Friendship Estate comprising 18.5915 hectares and 2.503 hectares were transferred to Seereeram Bros Ltd and Michael Small respectively, leaving a remaining portion of 179.8675 hectares.

They said the current registered proprietors of the remaining portion are Denise Irma Bain, Janice Bain-Mottley and Susan Bain.

In the application, Derek Hearn claimed to have been on the land for 36 years. The claim noted that he occupied, maintained and developed a portion of land comprising 26.7 acres on the remaining portion of the Friendship Estate without the express permission of any of the registered proprietors until he became ill in November 2023. He later hired workmen to continue to take care of the land.

On Tuesday, James said the THA did need Town and Country approval for the project.

He also claimed it was PNM Tobagonians and media houses in Trinidad looking to stir trouble.

“We continue to allow people to present info that judged the PNM administration differently from others. The PNM built that road from Gardenside (Scarborough) to the old Northside road – no submission to Town and Country. The PNM continued a road (from) San Fernando to Point Fortin – no Town and Country application.”

Quoting Section 8 2(b) of the Town and Country Act, which deals with the Control and Development of Land, James said, “The reality is that the laws that govern Town and Country Planning allow for exemptions.”

All efforts to contact James proved futile as calls and messages to his mobile went unanswered.