By David McKeand, Woodlands
The hastily submitted application to subdivide the Woodlands recreation space should be seen as “Piper’s Pond 2”. The actors, purpose and effects are strikingly similar. The destruction of Gun Hill and Piper’s Pond was clearly illegal but fully supported by civil servants in the planning and legal departments through active participation and by failing to act within their respective responsibilities.
The Montserrat Tourism Board had designated Gun Hill as a “significant” tourism attraction and had committed funds to the rehabilitation project for the site. Piper’s Pond was designated a “wildlife sanctuary” within the Forestry, Wildlife, National Parks and Protected Areas Act for which the government had sought and received significant project funds over many years for its preservation.
Both sites were identified in the Government’s draft “Tourism Development Plan 2012-2022”.
The development plan for Little Bay, agreed between DFID and the Government, had ensured the environmental protection of Piper’s Pond and the draft Physical Development Plan (PDP) recognized both sites as “protected” as part of the island’s heritage for future generations of Montserratians. In the “design charrette” public meeting in October 2011 for the new Little Bay development, Piper’s Pond was clearly advertised and planned as a public “botanical gardens”. By early 2012, the PDP had been reviewed and agreed by the public and the final draft had been provided to Cabinet for formal adoption.
However, everything changed when 13m euros became available for “projects”.
The Cabinet postponed the adoption of the PDP, then later unilaterally stripped both Piper’s Pond and Potato Hill of their protected status while completely ignoring the historic status of Gun Hill. The Cabinet then created a 2-stage “project”; one to teardown Gun Hill and the other to fill-in Piper’s Pond.
Remember, this was a time in which the Government would refuse to open any bid if someone had placed a mark of any kind (a line, checkmark, etc.) on the envelope after the bid had been formally received. John Ryan was awarded one contract and Rupert Isles the other.
The Physical Planning Act states the Government “shall” give legal effect to the “draft plan” if one is available, so in creating the Piper’s Pond destruction project, Cabinet and civil servants violated both the Planning Act/PDP and at the very least, the entire rationale for the Forestry and Protected Areas Act. The acts are simple and clear, and the actors cannot now claim they did not understand the law or their responsibilities under this law. Nor can they claim they possessed the “authority” as no individual or government body, including Cabinet, is above the law.
Similarly, the hurried Woodlands subdivision proposal is illegal. Planners have not performed any of the required tasks needed before they could begin to consider the proposal or ask for public comment. (Comment on what details?) They know this because the Attorney General recently stated in writing to the court the government would do these tasks if such a proposal were made, and that these “details” would be put before public in the public planning register. They have not done so, and they understand this.
The Woodlands proposal is being put forward while ignoring, and therefore violating, the Planning Act, PDP and the Environmental and Conservation Management Act to turn the protected conservation areas surrounding Cassava and Lawyer’s River Ghauts into lots for a quick profit with no regard for Montserrat’s environmental protections and future generations just as these same actors did for Piper’s Pond. In fact, the government has been advised Cassava Ghaut has been partially in-filled to make more room for building lots. The government has chosen to ignore this illegal activity as well.
All this hasty and illegal activity is meant to head-off a court challenge which clearly shows civil servants submitted false and misleading statements to the court in illegally stripping Woodlands of its only open designated public green space in the name of short-term greed for the powerful few.
Residents have rights only because the government and our civil servants can be held accountable (and prosecuted) for their actions through a process called “judicial review”. Piper’s Pond is an example of what happens when citizens limit their actions to complaining about the government in discussions among themselves.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Goldenmedia / Discover Montserrat and its subsidiaries.