Pundit stands firm against Todd Street housing project

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The contentious piece of land at Todds Street, San Fernando which is earmarked for HDC housing. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

A group of concerned citizens are requesting a meeting with Planning and Development Minister Pennelope Beckles-Robinson and Housing and Urban Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis over a proposed housing project on Todd Street and environs in San Fernando.

The group is also calling on the Prime Minister to rescind a Cabinet decision to allow housing to take place in this area. They have assembled a legal team to contest the matter in court if necessary.

Group spokesman Pundit Rudranath Maharaj made these statements on Monday and in a sermon at the Todd Street Mandir on Sunday.

On Monday, Maharaj said, “We are proceeding with our objections as the MP (San Fernando West MP Faris Al-Rawi) is not prepared to reconsider the decision to have housing on that site.”

He added, “We have written to the Ministers of Planning and Development and Housing to meet with them.”

In a video of a sermon held at the Todd Street Mandir on Sunday, Maharaj claimed at a previous meeting with stakeholders, San Fernando West MP Faris Al-Rawi could not give any assurances about no houses being built on the land in question.

He said, “We are not stopping. We are not backing down on this issue.”

Maharaj said the group has the support of all stakeholders in the area and has assembled a legal team to help them if necessary.

On the latter, he added, “No member of that team is an active politician.”

Maharaj said the legal team is prepared to do their work for free.

He also appealed directly to Dr Rowley to find out about the project.

Maharaj believed that once Rowley did that he would “have no problem in rescinding that Cabinet note and saying we made a mistake.”

He said stakeholders would accept that and this would prove Rowley is a prime minister for all the people.

Maharaj warned that if the project is not discontinued, Government should be prepared to embark on a journey of 1,000 miles.

In a statement last Friday, Maharaj said said the group has several concerns about the construction of 100 apartments in a green space between the San Fernando West Secondary School (to the north), San Fernando Central Secondary School (to the south), Todd Street (on the west) and privately held lands.

The group’s concerns were reiterated by Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal during a news conference in Port of Spain on October 30.

Moonilal referred to a Cabinet note dated September 8, 2022 in which Cabinet agreed to the transfer of one hectare of land to the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) for “the development of multi-housing, with an estimated yield of 72 apartment units.”

But a July 29 letter from the Education Ministry to the HDC and an April 7 letter from the Planning Ministry’s Town and Country Planning Division did not advise the use of this site for residential housing.

The former said the use of the area for residential housing will add to the noise pollution and traffic congestion in the area. The latter said the site forms part of a piece of land allocated as a school site.

In a statement last Friday, the HDC said it is committed to holding consultations with stakeholders about a the proposed housing project.

HDC said it is doing site identification and assessment on lands at Todd Street with respect to the proposed project. The preliminary planning work includes surveying, traffic surveys and studies, geotechnical and topographical investigations.

The HDC said, “Against this background, consultation with any stakeholder is premature.”

But it added that it is “committed to engaging all stakeholders to hear their views and concerns.”

At a mural unveiling on Harris Promenade, San Fernando last Tuesday, Al-Rawi said, “I can give the assurance, as MP for San Fernando West, all pleas for traffic management are being co-ordinated as we start at phase one at Todd Street redevelopment, as it starts, from the bottom, as it connects to the beginning of the waterfront. That remobilisation of traffic is critical to all of us.”