A HIGH COURT judge has quashed the decision of the Minister of Town and Country Planning to grant permission to the Sport Company of TT (SPORTT) to construct a sporting complex at the Orange Grove Savannah in Tacarigua.

In a 70-page ruling yesterday, Justice Ricky Rahim found that the minister breached his duty under Sections 6 and 7 of the Town and Country Planning Act to take steps to amend the national development plan as it related to the Orange Grove Savannah. The judge also found that the decision of the minister to grant permission to TT (SPORTT) to develop the lands was in breach of natural justice and was void and of no effect. “It is manifestly clear that there was no consultation with those affected,” the judge said in his ruling in favour of a group of Tacarigua residents, including two sporting clubs, which have used the savannah for decades.

“If anything these claimants are the ones to be most affected by the construction more than perhaps any other as they have had continuous and undisturbed use of the grounds over many years,” Justice Rahim said. It was an emotional end to the three-year fight by the residents. Public relations officer of the Save Our Orange Grove Savannah lobby group, Dr Carol James admitted to Newsday it was an emotional battle. As she was embraced by the scores of residents - some of whom wept after the ruling was delivered in the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain - James said the fight for the ‘green space’ was done for the families who for generations come together at the savannah.

“It is our space and we want to keep our space for our children,” she said.

The residents filed legal action after they were informed of the decision to construct the Eddie Hart Regional Sporting Complex, a multipurpose sporting complex, which would have featured a 25 metre swimming pool, cricket ground, football field, pavilion and 400 metre running track.

They complained that there was no full disclosure as to the scope of the project and that the SPORTT application, dated August 26, 2013, to the Town and Country Planning Division had been granted on September 25, 2013.

Their attorney, Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein submitted at the trial before Justice Rahim that the residents and the Ulric ‘Buggy’ Haynes Coaching School and the Dinsley Cricket Club, would be adversely affected if the planned sporting complex was constructed as they would no longer have access to the green space.

Hosein accused the executive of not adhering to the statutory provisions of the Town and Country Act which mandates that a National Physical Development Plan be submitted to Parliament, along with surveys, every five years.

He said the plan was important to ensure there was consistency and continuity as it related to how land was developed.”You cannot run a country without a development plan,” he argued, adding that, “The State has not satisfied its duty imposed by Parliament.”

In ruling in the residents’ favour, Justice Rahim found that there was a breach of duty on the part of the minister to update the national plan.

The judge ordered that minister reconsider the SPORTT’s application in a ‘procedurally fair manner and specifically after genuine consultation’ with the residents and other affected members of the public.

In his ruling, the judge said that the minister was aware of the public objection to the proposed construction but deprived the residents of the opportunity granted to them by statute to object or make representation as it related to the effect that the sporting complex would have on their daily activities.

“There was a duty on the minister to act fairly when considering the application for planning permission. Consultation is not only about objections but also about representations to arrive at the best possible plan which would benefit the various interests in the community and at the same time give effect to the government’s intention,” the judge said.

He also pointed out the former minister of sport, who, when approached by cricket clubs’ executive, declared that the sporting complex “can’t be stopped, it wouldn’t be stopped and is going full steam ahead’ was indicative of the approach taken to the construction of the sporting complex without sufficient regard for the right of those who make the community their home and whose lives revolve around the savannah to be heard. Justice Rahim said residents had to discover matters relating to the project largely through their own efforts; literally had to plead for genuine consultation and had to resort to the national media in an effort to be heard.

“But alas their pleas have all fallen on deaf ears,” he said.

The judge, in ordering the minister to pay the residents’ costs of bringing the action, suggested that not only should recreational areas be provided but also consider that “green spaces deserve some measure of protection.”

“Developed nations appear to have gone the way of eco-friendly references in acknowledgment that the phrase green space does not only define a place for human recreation but also goes beyond to acknowledge the reservation or conservation of a community, rural, natural or historic character and the conservation of land for recreational ecological environmental or aesthetic interest.

As we continue to develop as a nation in the 21st century the time may have arrived when those who govern may wish not only to ensure that sufficient recreational areas are provided but also consider that green spaces deserve some measure of protection,” Justice Rahim said in his ruling.

Also appearing for the residents were attorneys Rishi Dass and Marina Narinesingh while Russell Martineau, SC, Gerald Ramdeen and Kendra Mark represented the minister.