|Comments on Crown land draft policy to be reviewed||| Print ||
|Thursday, 19 August 2010 11:41|
After a whirlwind series of hastily called town meetings on Crown land reform, advisor Jon Llewllyn believes the draft policy “hit the nail on the head” — but with a few objections that must be resolved.
Public meetings are over, but Llewllyn said people can still submit comments and suggestions to any government office. Though the original target date to enact the policy was Sept. 1, he said it most likely will take until October.
He still must prepare a report on the results of public consultation and present that to the governor’s Advisory Council and the Consultative Forum before the policy is finalized.
Though Llewllyn said complaints were few, many people were upset about the amount of Crown land that has been allocated and said steps should be taken to get some of it back.
“You have to draw a line between rightfully overturning deals that clearly were not in the public interest and that may border on the criminal in the nature and conduct of it, and also preserving confidence in the market that every deal isn’t under scrutiny,” Llewllyn said.
The Special Investigation and Prosecution Team and the Civil Recovery Team are looking into a number of high profile cases. Civil actions have already begun to recover land on Salt Cay and Joe Grant Cay.
But Llewllyn said not every Crown land deal will be investigated.
“We actually know that a lot of Crown land perhaps was undervalued, that people in many cases may have flipped land or not paid Belonger discounts,” he said. “Those two aspects will be looked at, but in general, if you received an allocation of Crown land for commercial or residential purposes, and it was a regular run-of-the-mill one, you may well have paid less than the market value, but that was the nature of the beast at the time.”
Undeveloped private land
People have also suggested that the country take back undeveloped, legally obtained private property to increase the amount of Crown land available to Belongers.
“Were you to do so, you might deter people from investing in the Turks and Caicos Islands, because then you might create a fear that they didn’t do something productive with the land to the satisfaction of the local population, they might run the risk of losing that land,” Llewllyn said. “That might undermine confidence at a time when really we need to promote confidence in the Turks and Caicos Islands.”
Because there is so little Crown land left, the new policy says that Belongers can seek Crown land only if they have never received it and who do not already own a residential parcel.
Some people who already have their own property but never received Crown land didn’t like that restriction. Others said it was unfair to people who had Crown land on one island and wanted to move to another island.
“It seemed a little unfair for the government to be excluding them from future allocations simply because they were the ones who worked hard,” Llewllyn said of those concerns. “I pointed out that, because they didn’t have a pressing need for residential property, it may well be that their continued good contribution to society would be that they let somebody else with a more pressing need to have a crack at it.”
Llewllyn said that objection, like others, is one “that the Advisory Council needs to take into consideration, and I think when we come up with a final draft of this policy, it will be after that issue has been debated and settled.”
Under the proposed restrictions, Llewllyn estimated that approximately 4,000 people would be eligible to seek allocations from 9,906 acres of Crown land remaining. With the proposed residential lot size of 1/4-acre, there would be sufficient land to “satisfy demand within this generation and have some provision for generations moving forward,” he said.
“Even though we have a lot of data, it’s difficult to say what the precise demand will be. That’s because some people may not be able to afford the discounted prices that will be offered for Crown land residential allocation.”
Residents also were upset that some past developments restricted beach access for residents. But Llewllyn said the policy calls for Crown land to be used for public recreation areas and beach access.
In 2005 the government approved a Crown land policy that required the quarterly or bi-annual publication in the gazette of all Crown land transactions. It also said that “areas of significant ecological or historic importance will not be allocated for development.”
However, the former government never made Crown land transaction information public, and Crown land was allocated for development in the Chalk Sound National Park and Pigeon Pond and Frenchman’s Creek Nature Reserve.
People questioned how a new policy was going to change anything if future governments choose to ignore policies and laws.
Llewllyn said the policy would only work if it was followed, and that the public had to hold the government accountable by scrutinizing future Crown land actions, which are now public.
The policy’s core principles will be included in the Constitution, the policy will be written into law, and it will be overseen by the attorney general’s office, according to the draft policy. And ministers would be removed from the Crown land allocation process.
“The reason for that is past performance,” he said. “We’ve clearly seen that ministers of the day have actively interfered with the normal administration of Crown land.”
As an additional safeguard, the policy recommends that the governor appoint a Crown Land Advisory Panel to review allocations and policy. Membership will include community representatives, the governor’s office, the Crown Land Unit, the Survey and Mapping Department, the Planning Department, the Housing Department, Social Welfare and the Human Rights Commission.
Questions were raised about the completeness and accuracy of the Crown land registry. Llewllyn said most information was included, but that the Consultative Forum has requested another look at North Caicos, where current figures show that only 2 percent of Crown land is left.
“As part of public consultation, we’re happy to go back to those figures and to look at them again to make sure that we’re getting them right,” he said.
Llewllyn worked in Her Majesty’s Land Registry for more than 20 years before becoming an international consultant on land policy. This is his first work in the Caribbean, but he said the land issues don’t seem to vary much around the world.
Click HERE to read the complete draft policy.
For free Crown land maps and registers, go to www.tcilandinfo.tc.
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