Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Chaguaramas needs a roadmap

The precious evergreen western peninsula is once again a flashpoint of political contestation over its economic development.

As far back as the 1950s, Chaguaramas, then a United States naval base, had been selected as the site of the failed West Indies Federation. As T&T moved on its own towards Independence from Britain, self-rule sentiment and related political agitation focused on the demand to regain the coveted peninsula as part of the national bequest.

Such historical background has conferred on Chaguaramas the status of a highly sensitive national preoccupation and the site of emotional attachment pre and post Independence.

Over the last week, the much frequented peninsula has figured in heated public debates pitting Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi against ministers of the former People's Partnership administration. Accusations of sell-out, land grabbing and cynical giveaways highlighted the exchanges as the present administration negatively reviewed land use decisions taken by the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) under the direction of the former government.

The CDA is now being accused of having overextended itself: to have incurred potentially crippling debt, unsustainably increased expenditure on staffing and other areas, and to have made available to investors land for making of the southern peninsula coastline an entertainment playground. Some such developments are complete or well on the way to completion, but the benefits to the State remain far from being accounted for.

Moreover, the jury is out on whether the projects approved by the former CDA had been previewed by and met Town and Country Planning approval criteria. Evidently, the CDA under the current political administration is keen to give effect to its own ideas for how the peninsula should be developed.

Projects questioned, disapproved of or denounced as illegal by the former opposition, now government, are today too far gone toward implementation to be recalled. Clearly, however, all bright ideas for making Chaguaramas the go-to place for residents and tourists depend on the single Western Main Road passageway which is notoriously inadequate for present traffic demand. The future of Chaguaramas as an entertainment and recreational place remains beholden to the means of getting there. So far in the debates over its future little has been heard about how people likely to be drawn to the peninsula's attractions can conveniently get there and back.

More significantly, little is known of what else the CDA and its ministerial overseers have in mind for the peninsula, since no overarching plan has yet emerged. There have been news items, inter alia, about returning land to farmers and about the downsizing of the Tucker Valley mega-farm from which some 46 acres have been reportedly reclaimed by the State. But as yet there has appeared no clear direction for how that premium chunk of real estate, much-utilised by the population, is to be developed and its public access secured.