Court halts HDC’s St Augustine Nurseries site project

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FILE PHOTO: The site of HDC’s North Grove housing development on land that was once part of St Augustine Nurseries in Curepe. – SUREASH CHOLAI

The GOVERNMENT’s proposal to use St Augustine’s nurseries for housing ran into a snag when a High Court judge granted an injunction preventing the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) from starting any work on the site.

On Tuesday, Judge Robin Mohammed allowed conservationist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and rancher Shiraz Khan to challenge the decision of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to grant an Environmental Clearance Certificate (CEC) to the HDC.

The judge also granted the temporary injunction to prevent the start or continuation of work on the site until the application for judicial review is decided by the court. The case returns for a virtual hearing on September 13.

Mohammed allowed the application for judicial review, allowing the two men to seek an order setting aside the EMA’s September 14, 2018 decision to issue the CEC to the HDC to build a 504-unit multi-family residential development in Farm Road, St Joseph, on seven acres of land.

The proposed site is part of the St Augustine Nurseries.

Both men will seek a declaration that the EMA’s decision is illegal and a new order requiring the EMA to require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out before the project can go ahead. ‘before.

Shiraz Khan. –

In his decision, the judge said: “My main concern must be centered on the decision-making process and not on the decision itself. I must determine whether the EMA’s decision was illegal, irrational or procedurally incorrect. »

In determining whether the men’s argument had a realistic prospect of success, the judge said he found the report submitted by the men’s experts helpful.

One in particular, related to flaws and inconsistencies in the HDC’s application, was mentioned by the judge.

“These (gaps and inconsistencies) include HDC’s error that there were no springs or aquifers in or near the site and that there were no rivers, streams or drainage as well as its omissions with respect to the assessment and treatment of solid waste.

“In fact, significant doubts have been cast on the reliability and accuracy of the scope of work provided by HDC, particularly with respect to its revised plans, including the drainage site plan and calculations and the stormwater management plan.

“These inconsistencies and contradictions suggest that the EMA’s assessment of the information provided by the HDC regarding the impact on the aquifer and hydrological system was insufficient. This raises questions about the rationality of the decision to grant CEC.

He said he was submitted by the EMA that his role was not to encroach on the HDC’s division of the land, for which he received approval, but to determine whether the development would pose a threat for the surrounding environment, including the St Joseph farm and the Saint-Augustin nurseries.

“I don’t consider this EMA argument to be relevant.”

Judge: the EMA should have asked more questions

He said Kublalsingh and Khan did not dispute the land use, but questioned the EMA’s failure to ask the HDC about the project’s impact on the microclimate of the farm that borders the proposed development.

He also said that the lack of evidence of engagement with the Ministry of Agriculture, which controlled the land, also cast doubt on whether the EMA had a full picture of the potential negative environmental impact in the short and term on the propagation station contiguous to the development, potential risks to St Joseph’s Farm and St Augustine Nurseries, and other likely adverse effects.

“There is also no evidence that the EMA engaged the department otherwise.”

He also said that it was evident that the environmental risks identified by the applicants related to the long-term impacts of the proposed development and that no such impacts had been identified by the EMA.

Environmentalist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh. FILE PICTURE –

“In fact, limited evidence and detail is provided by the EMA in its nursery impact assessment.

“…Under the circumstances, I am not convinced that these motives have no realistic prospect of success.”

The North Grove development has been proposed to be located on seven acres of farmland used for experimental crops.

The application states that the HDC cited Cabinet Minute No. 1376 of August 2017 which stated that “although the parcel of land is currently used for agricultural purposes, it is located in a densely built-up urban area, surrounded at the south, north and east”. by built development, including commercial and residential uses.

The men are represented by lawyers Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Arya Mahabir while Ian Benjamin, SC, Tekiyah Jorsling and Maurice Wishart represented the EMA.

In their application, both men said the EMA acted unlawfully and failed in its legal duty to consider all relevant issues before deciding to issue the CEC.

They accused the HDC of providing false and misleading information to the EMA during its CEC application in October 2017. According to the application, the men alleged that the HDC said there was no springs or aquifers on or near the site. However, they claim that the project site is on the Valsayn aquifer.

The application also argued that the EMA knew that the St Augustine Nurseries land was agricultural land and part of a larger enclosed parcel.

“He failed to request information from the HDC and/or to require a study and/or to require a review of the impact of extensive housing infrastructure, namely the construction of twelve high-rise buildings, each of eight stories, on the microclimate of the farm on which rest the valuable stocks of trees and plants of the contiguous nurseries of St Augustine.

The request further accused the EMA of failing to request information or require a study to be carried out to determine potential risks or negative impacts on the propagation station which distributes plants and tree crops to farmers and the General public.

EMA: We did our job properly

St Augustine Nurseries are part of St Joseph’s Farm which was established in the 1930’s and was part of an economic plan to collect, conserve and disseminate tropical plant species and products.

The plan included agricultural education and large tracts of land were allocated for research and conservation, according to the lawsuit.

“As part of the farm, St Augustine Nurseries collect, preserve and multiply plant material, germplasm. It keeps integrated a unique bank of plasma and technical expertise developed and preserved over nine decades. The farm also houses a herbarium. The nursery and herbarium are directly to the west of the proposed housing project,” the request added.

FILE PHOTO: St Augustine Nurseries, Farm Road, Curepe. –

In opposing the request, the EMA argued that Kublalsingh and Khan had not acted quickly in making her request and cited the delays she would have in national housing development,

The EMA also argued that granting furlough would be harmful and detrimental to good administration by further delaying a much needed public project that will benefit middle and low income families.

It was argued that the EMA had correctly considered the environmental impact of the development and was satisfied that the impact was minimal and could be properly mitigated and that its approach was reasonable and in line with the precautionary principle, as it considered carefully the negative impacts before granting the CEF.

He also argued that an EIA was not a mandatory requirement under the EMA Act and, in this case, it was not necessary.