No long talk: THA secretary prioritises development in Friendship Connector road project

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Work ongoing at the Friendship Connector Road. – DIQUD

THA Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development Trevor James said the $70 million Friendship Connector Road project will not be stymied by lengthy consultations.

“We just don’t have time for that,” James said during an interview with Tobago Updates on February 27.

A media release from the division recently said the project is 75 per cent complete and is anticipated to be completed by the end of March.

The release said paving started at Shirvan to Store Bay Local Road Connector, Friendship and at present, two layers of asphalt are being laid along the 2.7 km dual-lane road.

But the project could hit a stumbling block as some residents who have to relocate to accommodate the road have yet to relocate.

Newsday understands that one resident has threatened to take legal action.

James said the current administration wants to advance Tobago’s development using the design-build-finance model.

“We’re trying to expedite works that have been long outstanding by selecting a procurement modality that shortens the duration of the project,” he said.

On the issue of people residing on land which will be used for roads, James said, “We’ve had ongoing consultation with people claiming to have been squatting on the (Friendship) Estate.

“We’ve had consultation with a gentleman who says he has a legal right to be on Kilgwyn Estate.

“We’ve had conversation with another gentleman who has a house on the road reserve, and that process of finalising these issues is near.

“We’ve had conversation with the owner of Kilgwyn Estate with a view of compensating him for the area taken for the road.

“Of course, some would say take four years and do those consultations and then start. We just don’t have time for that.”

James denied taking a bullish approach.

He said, “No, as we build the road, issues arise, and we deal with them.”

He was adamant that one family on the Friendship Estate has no rights to the land as it was acquired by the State in 2009.

“All rights to anyone on the land before that became null and void. We know for a fact that to have rights on state land, you have to be there for 32 years.”

Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development Trevor James – THA

He insisted that the current THA administration is treating residents better than the PNM-led central government treated Canaan/Bon Accord residents affected by the airport expansion project.

“We have demonstrated by our actions that we are a caring government that wants the best for Tobago.”

James also dismissed criticism that the THA did not have Town and Country approval for the project, saying that none was required.

He said it was simply media houses in Trinidad looking for bacchanal in Tobago.

He claimed only PNM Tobagonians are seeking to stop Tobago’s development.

“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.”

He said the THA applied for a Certificate of Environmental Clearance and told the EMA that the road was a development road of an existing road and did not need to submit an application to Town and Country Planning.

At a recent press conference, PNM Tobago leader Ancil Dennis criticised the approach by the division, saying the road was being designed “on the fly.”

He said he was very concerned that Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has admitted to visiting residents and promising that the THA would rebuild their homes elsewhere if they vacated their homes.

He said there are two ways for the State to acquire land: private treaty or compulsory acquisition.

He said, “When you conceptualise a project, you must know where the road is going to pass. You must know what the footprint of the building is gonna be, whether you are interfering with state lands or private lands.”

He said one resident said he has been on the land for 40 years.

“If someone had done their homework, if someone had done proper procedures, then this would have been discovered before now.”

He added, “He (Augustine) is prepared to go directly to these people to give commitments of taxpayers’ money to pay rent and build homes for people. This is madness. Who is advising our Chief Secretary?”

Dennis said there seems to be disrespect for proper procedures by the current THA.

He said Augustine was acting recklessly by speaking to one of the residents.

He said neither the Prime Minister nor himself as former chief secretary got involved personally when lands were acquired by the State for the airport expansion project.

“Why is the Chief Secretary so interested in this process so as to show up personally when there are other people who want to see him personally and can’t.”