Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Letter of the day | Urban land acquisition not as easy

Published:Friday | September 2, 2016 | 9:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

The suggestion in your editorial of August 31 that any redevelopment of areas in proximity to National Heroes Park for a new parliament building and expanded government offices should include the targeting of sections of Allman Town and Kingston Gardens is interesting, but may not be as easy as it sounds.

The compulsory acquisition of property in these sections of the Corporate Area, as suggested, would have implications, not addressed in the editorial, which, admittedly, had a slightly different focus.

Unlike when underutilised land in rural areas is bought by the State and private interests for road expansion, these inner city communities are clusters of densely populated residences - some owned - occupied with rented-out rooms or crowded tenements. Many of these units are occupied by aged folk who had either purchased them years ago, or been living in them as family property, the original owners having died, or as tenants. Others have been captured, the owners having migrated and given up on these difficult-to-maintain properties.

So, among the issues to be addressed are: Where would all these people to be displaced go? Who among them would be compensated for the acquisition - individual occupants of rooms on some properties, or only owners, where this can be verified?

There may be small businesses and churches, which are more easily relocated, but such a policy may create a greater social dysfunction down the road than the problem one is trying to address. Would new housing units be built elsewhere? Nearby? Can serious renovation take place where there are multiple families in some of these properties? At what cost? And would the displaced owners then be asked to invest in any newly built properties? If the properties are simply to be renovated for better aesthetic appeal and public health improvement, the need for more government office space would not really have been addressed. Would it?

Many of these properties do need significant investment for infrastructure and residential renewal and renovation, but government policy would have to take into account that you would not only be dealing with mortar and steel, zinc and lumber, but with people, many of whom may not have anywhere else to go in the short to medium term.

Unless, of course, you want to relocate them to underutilised land at Up Park Camp for which private business interests have been salivating for years. And that would be another conundrum.

CWS