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Slow building approvals hamper construction sector

KSAC says incomplete submissions, multi-agency approach to blame

BY CONRAD HAMILTON Sunday Observer senior reporter hamiltonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 03, 2013    

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KEY players in the local construction sector are demanding changes at the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) and other municipal authorities across the country that would result in speedier processing of building plans submitted for approval.

Sector interests who participated in a Jamaica Observer focus group last week say that the livelihoods of the more than I00,000 Jamaicans employed in the construction industry are being put at risk because of what they contend is tardiness on the part of municipal authorities.

"One of our major concerns is the time that it takes to get the approvals through. It is causing great concern. Years ago we participated in the creation of a Developments Assistance Centre (DAC). At the time, that was being put forward as a one-stop shop where you would get all the stakeholders in the approval process in one location, and then hopefully the approval of our projects would come through in a faster manner. That has not taken place," said Laurie Ferron, the president of the Jamaica Institute of Architects.

He added that from time to time, the KSAC as well as other councils implement changes without advising stakeholders.

"We want a more seamless approach and there seem to be emerging rules or emerging planning guidelines that you are not aware of until after you submit your drawings," Ferron complained.

He was supported by chairman of the Jamaica Developers Association, Michael Lake.

"We do need construction to be ramped up to its maximum in Jamaica because it is one of the largest employers of labour. To do that we have to conform with the laws and we do need approvals as quickly as possible," said Lake.

He argued that instead of accepting full fees at the point of submission of building plans and applications, the parish councils and related approval agencies should, instead, be required to accept 50 per cent of the fees at the start of the application process and the remaining 50 per cent, only when the approvals process has been completed. He maintains that such a policy would speed up the process and promote accountability and greater efficiency.

However, administrators at the KSAC, who were also a part of the Sunday Observer's discussion panel insisted that they have been pushing hard to improve the turnaround time for building applications.

They pointed to several other factors that sometimes affect processing time, including the fact that many building plans have to be approved by multiple state agencies.

"We also have an issue in terms of the time that approvals take, but one of the things that I find is that persons are not mindful, or even if they are aware, they don't take it into consideration, especially when you have to refer an application to an external agency. They don't consider the time that these entities take for the process to move forward," said Andrine McLaren, director of Planning at the KSAC.

These other state regulators include the National Environmental Protection Agency, the National Works Agency and the Ministry of Health.

McLaren explained that some applications, such as those for single-amily homes do not always require external referrals, and in some cases, those submissions are approved within four to six weeks.

She countered that in some instances, the KSAC is blamed for delays when approvals have not come from the Town and Country Planning Authority.

"The KSAC will grant the building approval, but it can't grant the building approval until the authority has made a determination on that. So at the end of the day you hear people say, 'I submitted my plan to the KSAC some six months ago and I can't get a response'," she explained. She added that in some cases delays are caused by the prospective homeowners or the professional builders, engineers and architects they hire, who are guilty of submitting faulty plans.

Norman Shand, the city engineer, who also participated in the Observer's panel discussion, added that some of the building plans are submitted with insufficient information, particularly those relating to engineering details.

Meanwhile, Lake highlighted the need for the Town and Country Planning Authority to complete its revision of the Development Order, which governs land use in Jamaica.

"The truth is that the Development Orders are behind, they are behind in establishing and publishing them. What does that do? It gives the general public, including professionals, a clear guideline about what is allowed here, there and everywhere. In other words, I am not going to build a residential community in an area designated for farming," Lake explained.

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