Yesterday, a resolution was passed in the Lower House of Parliament for the compulsory plot acquisition in Point.
The purpose of this acquisition is to facilitate the construction of condominium-style homes for the residents of Booby Alley Social Housing project.
This project, worth EC$100 million and will be funded by a grant from the People’s Republic of China, aims to construct 150 two-bedroom units.
The project was initially expected to begin in 2018 but has been delayed due to controversy surrounding the clearance of the Booby Alley area.
During the presentation of the resolution, the Member of Parliament (MP) for St. John’s City West and Prime Minister Gaston Browne stated that the government has been attempting to clear the area for several years.
“The process of clearing the land has been delayed perhaps at least for three years, Covid would have contributed to some of the delays, but one of the delays we have experienced is the fact that we have had property owners who have refused to cooperate”, Browne told Parliamentarians.
According to the MP, all properties except for two have been cleared. Desiree and Dawn Browne jointly own the remaining property that hasn’t been resolved.
The government has been negotiating with the sisters to resolve the issue, and the MP called them about a month ago to request their cooperation and emphasize the urgency of the matter.
“We undertook to pay them the full amount which I believe was valued at $144,000, so that any concern they may have had about not being paid on time we were prepared to take that off the table…They indicated that they would cooperate, but a month later, they have not been able to sign a formal agreement and I am told now that one of the sisters are in the United States, and she’s ill. Perhaps they are still willing to proceed to do a voluntary deal, but I don’t know that we can wait any longer,” said.
Browne said as of Monday, the Chinese were in talks with the local technical team to develop the Booby Alley area.
He said further that the only outstanding issue preventing the finalization of the technical designs and the selection of a contractor for the construction of the buildings is the clearance of one last building.
Browne expressed concern that further delays would be unjustified, stating they had already tried to negotiate with the sisters to avoid contention.
In the debate over the resolution, Jamale Pringle, Member of Parliament for All Saints East and St. Luke and Opposition Leader, expressed his opposition.
“I am very interested in anything that has to do with land, the importance of such an asset is important to us because we have to now wonder when its going to be be us, if its going to be us.
He said, “compulsory acquisition of land, especially by a government that failed to compensate people fully for their asset, is a concern of mine and it should be a concern of a lot of persons too. Not because is Booby Alley, [but] because this can happen anywhere throughout Antigua and Barbuda”
The Opposition Leader suggested to the government that they continue to engage the property owners in discussions.
“I don’t know why it is they are moving to compulsory acquire rather than to have continuous dialogue with individuals. Let us use negotiations before intimidation. We don’t know the historical sentiments of that piece of land to the family.
“Let us not, because we have the majority, use the halls of Parliament to compulsorily acquire people’s asset. It’s a concern of mine because today it might be those two sisters but tomorrow it might very well be me, or the members on this side [Opposition] or somebody out in All Saints East,” Pringle said.
In a recent parliamentary session, it was suggested that contractors commence development on a particular plot of land while negotiations are ongoing. This would provide more time to negotiate.
Minister for Lands, Maria Browne emphasized that the property in question falls within the necessary block required to commence the project.
She warned that further delays could lead to potential project loss.