EDITORIAL: Overgrown lots a concern
LAST month Minister of Health, John Boyce, came to Parliament seeking approval for a money resolution to the tune of $4.6 million to finance a debushing programme in this country. That debate brought into clear focus, the reality of how many lots across the length and breadth of this island are overgrown with bush, presenting a major headache for the health authorities in this country and indeed the persons who live in close proximity to them.
The fact is there are thousands of vacant lots in this country, and most of them are overgrown with bush, presenting not only a health risk to the population as these lots can harbour vermin and mosquitoes, but as Minister Boyce pointed out during the debate, they can also provide cover for would-be robbers who are seeking to prey on unsuspecting individuals.
It would also be prudent to point out that these overgrown lots can also be used to camouflage illegal farming activities. These realities have resulted in the Ministry of Health conducting in excess of 15 debushing programmes over the years, each running into the millions of dollars no doubt. But it is unfair that the State, or rather we the taxpayers, are required to provide the finances to clean these properties. Landowners have a responsibility to maintain their properties and every effort must be made to ensure that they do.
What we find disgusting is that some landowners refuse to clean the property and when they receive abatement notices, they ignore those too and then refuse to reimburse the State when it is that the authorities are forced to clear the land in order to ensure the well-being and safety of the wider society. This is unacceptable behaviour and the authorities have to find a way to recoup those costs.
Another concern of ours is the number of dilapidated houses that can be found across our country. Together with the overgrown lots, they are indeed blemishes on our otherwise beautiful landscape. Reports in fact indicate that there are 15 000 unoccupied dwellings in Barbados. Now, while all cannot be categorised as dilapidated, we certainly feel that a large percentage of those properties do fit into that category and we think that concerted efforts have to be made to deal with these properties as a matter of urgency.
The fact is, these unoccupied houses, particularly those that are derelict, can have a negative impact on the health and well-being of our citizens and residents, as well as visitors to these shores, not to mention they do nothing to improve the nearby property values. As such, we feel that legislation is needed to deal with these properties as we reiterate that these houses and lots present health risks, as they can be breeding grounds for leptospirosis-carrying rats and pesky virus-carrying Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, which can transmit the dreaded diseases such as Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika.
Some months back, Minister of Housing, Lands and Rural Development, Denis Kellman, said that Government would be looking to take steps to bring abandoned and derelict properties located within the urban area, back into use. He suggested at that time that pursuing that initiative could see the State possibly purchasing the properties from the owners or exchanging them for property outside of the urban corridor. But little has been heard of this proposal since then. We certainly hope that the idea has not been abandoned, as it can in essence kill two birds with one stone – getting the abandoned properties back into use and providing much-needed housing for Barbadians who continue to demand more and more housing options.
We therefore support this idea and call for it to be expanded across the entire country if possible.