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CDA leases conflicted with master plan—Camille
Good news and bad news for Chaguaramas “tenants”.
Several Chaguaramas land leases which are illegal are being reviewed by the Chaguaramas Development Authority — but some Chaguaramas farmers will be getting almost half the Tucker Valley land which has been surrendered by Joe Pires’ company.
This was confirmed by Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis at a Ministry briefing yesterday.
She spoke following Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s comments last weekend about “land grabbing” at Chaguaramas. Former People’s Partnership (PP) Ministers Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Devant Maharaj denied this.
Yesterday Robinson-Regis cited issues with land leased during the past PP’s tenure (see box).She said leases must be in alignment with the permitted land use plan. But the only approved Development Plan for
Chaguaramas was the 1974 plan. A Master Plan which the PP did was never approved by Parliament. The PP’s plan is now being reviewed by CDA.
She said, “Investigations revealed several leases granted by CDA over 2010 to 2015 weren’t in CDA’s or the public’s best interest.”
Fifteen leases were granted in the three months prior to the 2015 general polls — although such timeframe is usually seen as a caretaker period for an incumbent government and agreements aren’t usually done.
Robinson-Regis said CDA’s external counsel has now advised that a Planning Minister couldn’t direct CDA to act outside of the 1974 Plan and that leases inconsistent with that plan are “illegal and unenforceable.”
As such, the lessors wouldn’t have been entitled to get planning permission for work they did. Robinson-Regis said at least four lessors who had erected infrastructure for tourism projects are involved.
“We’ll deal with this on a case by case basis. CDA will give us recommendations. But we recognise some lessors may be willing to act in the national interest,” she added.
On land leased by Pires’ Caribbean Chemicals Ltd, she said the 2007 Cabinet (PNM) agreed to a 200-acre farm in Tucker Valley and establish a state company to manage this.
The 2010 Cabinet (PP) reassigned this responsibility from CDA to the Food Production Ministry. In 2011 that Cabinet (PP) agreed that CDA grant a lease of approximately 100 acres of the Tucker Valley Farm to
Food Production and re-allocate that land “for private investment for operation/management of a commercial large farm”.
She said Food Production selected Pires’ company as the tenant for the second 100 acres via a lease dated March 13, 2014.The company got the acreage (40.5260 hectares) for 30 years at annual rent of $180,000 — monthly instalments of $15,000.
However, it was found the 100 acres were not being used for the purpose the lease was granted for. Negotiations occurred with the company which agreed to surrender 18.8 hectares with a reduction in rent from $15,000 to $9,000 and other terms.
“The remaining acreage of 50 acres will be used for farmers — the Guave Road and Haig Community United Group. The land will be distributed in half-acre plots and is being prepared for distribution,” she said.
OTHER NEGOTIATIONS WITH LEASE-HOLDERS
CDA also engaged Ernst & Young Services Limited to review selected leases entered into/terminated during 2010 to 2015, tendering processes and awards of key contracts/projects over 2012 to 2015.
Several leases were unfavourable, Robinson- Regis said.
“A May 22, 2015, lease was with Chaguaramas Parking Limited to lease 1.62 hectares of land for 30 years at a lease rental rate of $1.00 annually. CPL would construct a 1,000 carpark facility and, subsequently, lease the carpark back to the CDA at a monthly rate of $898,000.”
Another April 25, 2014, lease with Fouraime Enterprises Limited would have resulted in the loss of waterfront around Pier Two, access to the waterfront and parking by the public. Fouraime also had significant
non-compliance with CDA’s leasing policy.“Government has been in negotiations with Fouraime which agreed to provide beach and Pier Two access and expanded parking. CPL also agreed to surrender its lease without any cost provided CDA provide 1,000 car park spots for Fouraime’s customers on/before March 31, 2018,” the minister said.