Senator Julian Francis says the government, through Cabinet, did not issue an order to the Physical Planning Authority for the establishment of mining operations at Richmond.
Francis, a former Minister of Works who is now responsible for urban development among other portfolios, stressed on Sunday that the permission for mining, currently in the works for Richmond, was done above board and in keeping with all planning laws.
The senator commented on this matter last Sunday on the “Issue at Hand” programme on WEFM, after a panellist on the programme, Bentley Browne, a former town planner here commented that Cabinet has in the past gone over the head of the planning authority as it relates to projects in this country.
Browne is a former Director of Social and Sustainable Development at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and was once the deputy director of planning in the Central Planning Division.
He was speaking on the government’s move to allow the St Lucia-based firm, Rayneau Group of Companies, to set up a quarry at Richmond in the North Leeward constituency.
The move has been met with push-back by some persons who farm on lands earmarked for the project who have argued that the operation has taken them by surprise.
On Sunday, Browne also spoke about what he considers inaccessibility to the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), or Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that was done in 2008, noting that it is almost impossible to get a copy although it should be available to the public.
Browne said that at times, with big projects in small islands, the approval is done “high up” and sometimes Cabinet approves the project “so it binds” and the planning authority has to go along with it.
“…I am not talking about law, I am talking about practice, Browne commented when another panellist noted that was not law.
Browne added, “sometimes Cabinet may approve a development so then what is the planning board to do?”
However, Francis knocked Browne’s suggestion, stressing that this was not done in this case.
“The question of Bentley raising that government can order planning by going in the gazette and issuing an order, that was not done in this case.
“There is an option there depending on the type of development. If the government had such intention it would have done since 2020 when it approved the project in principle,” Francis said.
He said that Cabinet’s approval is the financial and economic aspect of the project and for the approval of a lease.
The company that will establish quarry operations on almost 59 acres of government land will pay $12,000 per year to government for the next three decades while government will also receive $2 for every tonne of aggregates exported from the quarry.
Senator Francis said the agreements approved by Cabinet state clearly that they are subject to the approval of the physical planning board and a quarry license approval.
“So having made a decision by Cabinet does not mean that an order was sent to Physical Planning. This was approved in 2020 in principle,” said Francis.
He noted that the documents were registered on April 8/9 2021, and the planning application made on October 14, 2021.
“In that time frame, if it was Cabinet’s intention so to do as Bentley is suggesting then that would have been done. The entire planning procedure went through as required by law,” Francis stressed.
He said that what Browne is suggesting can happen in certain circumstances but that move has to be gazetted.
“The minister just can’t say a quarry going here or a building going to be put down the road or we going to build 20 houses out Orange Hill.
“If it is the intention of the Cabinet then the gazette will be done, issued, and therefore physical planning will follow according to the law,” the Minister further explained.
Francis said the ESIA was done in 2008 for a different company on the same quarry lands plus areas at Wallilabou River, Morne Ronde and Larakai.
He however noted that Wallilabou, Morne Ronde and Larakai are not included in this project and that the ESIA was presented to Cabinet in relation to this current site.
“Cabinet approved in principle to accept that an ESIA done in 2008/2009 could be presented.
“That was never directed to the central planning, the physical planning either, but the proposal was made and an environmental management plan based on the ESIA done in 2008 and present day conditions and a quarry operations plan were requested by the physical planning department, those were presented,” Francis said.
He added that an advertisement was placed in the gazette and newspapers and said the public can have a look at the documents because they are available.
Francis also said that it took between October 14, 2021 to January 20, 2022 before an approval for the quarry was granted.
Further, that persons who had objected to the quarry were called to a discussion at the Murray Heights Hotel conference room with the relevant authorities, including the National Parks Rivers and Beaches Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
“There were about maybe 15 persons around that table. That’s prior to the final approval of central planning,” Francis explained noting that this was done last December.
He said that agreements were signed last year by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves for concessions and the general economic and financial aspects of the project and the Governor General signed the paperwork for the lease.