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Jan 29, 1998

Planners try to bring order to Belize City

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One look at Belize City is enough to convince most observers that the word “planning” has definitely been left out of the Creole dictionary. But hope springs eternal and it was at full bloom this morning at a workshop on the subject which opened at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel.

When the phrase, “failing to plan is planning to fail” was penned the writer more than likely, didn’t know that there was a place called Belize. But as the country embraces today’s realities, the logic behind the words stands tall. But if this group of planners has anything to do with it, future developments will be less stressful and a whole lot more coordinated. This day-long workshop brought together representatives of various government agencies to critically examine existing planning legislation.

Carolyn Trench-Sandiford, Secretary, Central Housing & Planning Authority

“We have realized that the existing planning legislation that we have is deficient in certain ways and in other ways it is not being enforced. We tried to look at the legislation and to look at some of it’s strengths and weakness and we felt that we needed some assistance in terms of getting some funding to ahm, get a consultancy to look at our legislation. But before we do that we needed to discuss among ourselves what are the strengths and weakness of some of our existing legislation and then to see what we need to do from there.”

Sandiford says a major problem lies with the planning aspect of the legislations. The current Housing and Planning Act dates back to 1947, when Belize City was still in the infant stages of development and the emphasis then had more to do with proper health and sanitation. Times have changed, however, and the pace of development has long outgrown the legislation.

Carolyn Trench-Sandiford

“When we look at the issues that we have to address today they are economic; they are social; they are environmental and they might even be political and therefore we have to look at those issues and try to, to modify our legislation, amend it. Now we are not saying we’re going to revise or change our legislation. We want to look at it; look at the issues that we have to address today and then see if there is need to maybe scrap that legislation or maybe just amend it.”

According to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing, David Aguilar, the workshop is the start of an effort to come up with a comprehensive national development plan and eliminate the problem of departments duplicating themselves.

David Aguilar, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Housing

“The importance of today’s workshop is that ahm, we’re hoping that in getting together the technicians from various ministries who are involved in the planning process that we can agree that we should work towards some kind of harmonization of the planning legislations that exist today and work together towards developing a future national plan in a combined and coordinated manner.”

And a manner that will also see people playing a more pivotal role in the consultation process. The idea is to also make the task of national development less political and avoid embarrassing situations like last year’s incident of a house ending up in the middle of a Belize City street.

Carolyn Trench-Sandiford

“Housing is a political issue. We all know that and at the end of the day the politician wants to say to the people that they have built a certain amount of houses and they are able to take those houses and pass over or hand over those houses to people as some kind of ahm, I don’t want to use the word political patronage but most, mostly that is how most of it end up. But they are able to take that house and say that they have produced certain amount of houses and give a certain amount of people ahm, houses. On the other side, to say that we have produced a plan to guide and regulate the development of a city does not necessarily interest them because they do not see the tangible benefits.”

Vallan Hyde, Local Government Officer

“We want to make recommendations here today that ahm, in the future any new development plans that is going to be created for any of these towns that the local elected authority be apart a this planning process and nothing is just handed down to them because we believe that having been elected they are supposed to decide which direction they want to move in.”

David Aguilar

“Urban areas are expanding and we need to make sure that the development is organized. For example we need to have master plans for different parts of the country. And in doing that we need to develop like ahm, zones for certain kinds of activities. Business areas, ahm, housing areas and so on. In developing a plan we must, assist us in planning for the future. We, we then get an idea of what are the cost involved in development and so on and where the Government can then concentrate its efforts.”

If ideas were worth a penny a piece, organizers of today’s workshop would have left the Biltmore with more than just “small change”. Although he was absent today, Housing and Planning Minister Hubert Elrington will get a compiled edition of all the recommendations coming out of the exercise. Patrick Jones, for News Five.

Among the groups represented at today’s meeting were the Ministry of Natural Resources, Department of Environment, Coastal Zone Management Unit and ESTAP.

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