Planning Work in Barbados – 2013

This year we have completed two very different assignments in Barbados. One involved planning casework – reporting on the equivalent of “called-in” applications and appeals on behalf of the Chief Town Planner. The other was a process review exercise, making recommendations for improvements to the “called-in” applications and appeals procedures.

In Barbados all applications involving change of use or sub-division of 2 or more acres of agricultural land and any application touching the coast are referred to the Minister responsible for planning (currently the Prime Minister) for decision. These two categories of application are particularly sensitive in a small island with heavy development pressures and where tourism is the main economic driver. The Chief Town Planner makes a recommendation on these cases and the applicant can request a hearing before a person appointed by the Minister if aggrieved by the recommendation. Hearings are informal in style but do not take place in public. The person conducting the hearing (who is not a specialist planning inspector) reports to the Minister who then issues a decision. Appeals against refusal of planning permission or against conditions imposed by the Chief Town Planner are dealt with by a similar process. Penfold Associates were commissioned by the Chief Town Planner to help deal with both types of case. This involved:

reviewing the applications and any supporting material such as Environmental Impact Assessments where these are required,
making necessary site inspections,
considering the responses to statutory consultations with other public bodies (which for beachfront applications include comments on coastal engineering issues and the impact on the marine environment from the Coastal Zone Management Unit),
evaluating the proposed development in relation to the Physical Development Plan and other planning policies and standards,
preparing reports on behalf of the Chief Town Planner on “called-in” applications recommending approval or refusal and drafting conditions where appropriate, or
drafting the Chief Town Planner’s arguments in appeal cases.
Penfold Associates dealt with approximately 30 such cases between mid-July and mid-September 2013.

The process review exercise dealt with the procedures for Town and Country Planning Act S18 cases where applications are referred for Ministerial decision and S19 appeals which are also determined by the Minister. This exercise formed part of a wider approach to public sector reform and institutional strengthening. Stakeholders in both the public and private sector were consulted on the system’s shortcomings and on their views about possible improvements. Good practice from other jurisdictions was considered – including that from developed economies as well as other Caribbean territories – but the fundamental aim was to achieve an improved system which was appropriate to the needs of Barbados. Major recommendations were for a more pro-actively managed system to improve efficiency and speed of decision-making and for improvements to make the system more open and transparent. The latter included disclosure of information prior to Hearings and increased focus at Hearings on the issues which are in dispute. Penfold Associates also drafted a Guidance Manual on the improved system for use by all parties involved. This assignment was completed to a tight deadline during February/March 2013.