FEW, if any objections, to the revitalisation of Port of Spain have been expressed, said an alderman on the Port of Spain City Council and a local MP, speaking to Newsday on Monday.
Newsday spoke to Alderman Wendell Stephens and Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland, who both supported the project.
Stephens was very optimistic about the Prime Minister’s plans to rejuvenate the capital, but said alongside this development, the issue of homeless people on the city streets must be tackled in a humanitarian way.
Asked if he shared Dr Rowley’s enthusiasm, Stephens replied, “Actually I do.”
He recalled attending consultations since 1990 for a string of past plans for the capital’s renewal, amid the 16 plans from 1968-2015, ahead of last week’s forum, Spotlight on Urban Development: The Revitalisation of Port of Spain.
“I had my reservations but I want to believe, after all I’ve seen from Dr Rowley in the past five years, that it can be achieved.”
Stephens said the Government had completed the Government Campus Plaza, plus renovations at the Red House, Whitehall, President’s House, Mille Fleurs and Stollmeyer’s Castle, in addition to completing the Vieux Fort apartments in St James.
“All that was completed in five years, so I’m very optimistic.”
He alleged the People’s Partnership government had done “absolutely nothing” for the capital.
Newsday asked what feedback he had got from residents on possible dislocation as a result of the project.
“Well, surprisingly, there has not been much negative comment concerning what he has proposed,” he said. “The Prime Minister has basically said if the Government comes and asks you to move, then you should move, because all we want to do is improve the area.
“I think people really want an improvement in their circumstances. If they don’t get it now, I think they are not going to get it for a long, long time…So now is the best time to take it.”
Newsday asked if several projects alone could lift the tenor of the capital, given the prevalence of vagrancy etcetera.
“I think the biggest challenge for the Government will be the issue of the homeless in the street. It’s gotten way out of hand.
“I’ve heard a figure of 52 called. Well, that might be the figure in one particular part, but the city extends to St James and Woodbrook, where there are countless homeless people living on the street. I see them every day.
“It is a tall order. But some humane way needs to happen to get these people the help they need and get them off the streets.
“I’ve travelled the world and seen homeless people all over, but I’ve never seen it like I’ve seen it in Trinidad. We have it bad here, and I think we are burying our heads in the sand if we don’t accept we have a serious problem and we need to do something about it.”
He said some families have given up on some of their loved ones, who end up on the streets because of problems like drugs, insanity, financial problems and even tabanca.
“Only the State could do something about it. The city corporations are ill equipped to deal with it.
“I’d be disappointed if, in this term of office under Dr Rowley, a lot of these things are not achieved. I’d be disappointed.”
Newsday asked Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland if he shared the PM’s optimism over a new vision for the city.
“These are a very significant undertaking. If you accept it you’ll realise it is an attempt to revitalise Port of Spain.
“Sea Lots is not excluded from that. There is development happening there. It will continue to happen and the country will see the results. The City of Port of Spain will see the results.”
Newsday said this was the 16th plan from 1968-2015 for urban development.
“Well, maybe I’m thinking this time will be lucky 17,” Scotland said. “I know we are working. On Friday, we opened the most modern overpass, that leads to the water taxi, on Wrightson Road. So you are actually seeing the development.”
Asked if a patchwork of piecemeal projects was enough to lift the overall tenor of the city, he responded, “My view is that a conglomerate of little steps will equate to a big step. If you take the plan, including the proposed green area, a lot of thought has gone into the plan.
“The foreshore project makes the plan as eco-friendly as possible.
“For me and my constituents, I’m very excited. I’m excited it will also create opportunities for the persons who live in Port of Spain South to be gainfully employed in the execution of this project.”
Does he have to “sell” the project to constituents, given its potential to cause some dislocation?
“I guess you’re referring to whether or not relocation will have to occur. My answer to that is that should come as no fear to anybody there, because there is a methodology and a process in place for that.
“If at the end of the day, it will redound to the benefit of those persons who are being relocated, then what is their objection?
“The Prime Minister rightly put it that their grandchildren and their offspring will not forgive them if they allow this opportunity to pass. It is not immediate, but if it happens it will be done in accordance with strict parameters of relocation.”
Scotland said he had interacted with constituents since last week’s launch of the revitalisation plan: “A few, and there is an excitement about. There is enthusiasm.”
In the past there was resistance to similar proposals, such as the Basdeo Panday government’s plan for condos in Laventille and a yacht marina at Sea Lots.
Scotland replied, “We are hoping not to have any resistance. Well, you can’t stop resistance but we are hoping to go forward with our plan for the city.”
The benefits of the plan will be explained at events such as community meetings, “In keeping of course with the covid restrictions, we do intend to have reach-outs, because we must advise the folks who live in the area.”
There has been a newspaper report of of one woman saying she will not move from the area, but Scotland said, “I have not seen it. When I see that I will look at it.”
Offering his final thoughts, he said, “We look forward to an exciting time and an exciting prospect for Port of Spain South.”
Last Friday in the House of Representatives, in reply to Opposition queries, the Prime Minister said there was no need for any anxiety over the relocation. The first phase of the Piccadilly Regeneration Project will be built without any need to displace anyone, he said, and then the units built there will accommodate 13 households moved from the second phase as its development begins.
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