Wednesday, February 19, 2020

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  Building Department

There are few, if any, areas of the country that are free of any threat of some type of natural hazard, whether it be flooding, land slides, cyclonic winds etc. It must be remembered also that this country lies within both a hurricane belt and an earthquake zone. These are the obvious and therefore easy to foresee problems that must be addressed by the Building Department, often in conjunction with other agencies. The less obvious and therefore insidious dangers are the ones that require exploration, examination and when necessary drastic action. The Building Department would therefore have to initiate programs calculated to expose, remove or reduce potential dangers, to every extent possible. Where drastic action is needed so as to reduce or eliminate potential or existing dangers to the public, and superiors remain unconvinced and so stall or delay such action, the Building Department by highlighting such situations, will at least have fulfilled a moral obligation to apply expertise in the cause of public safety.

In the absence of qualified and licensed builders, the Building Department has to maintain a system of thorough plan review, not only to ensure compliance with existing laws but also to maintain acceptable standards of construction. Regular inspections during construction also ensure that work is done in conformity with the approved drawings.

The staff of the Building Department must also be familiar with legal procedures, so that complaints can be properly handled. Also, in the case of breaches of the laws that necessitate litigation or other action, legal advice sometimes has to be obtained by the Building Department to ensure that 'procedural due process' is followed. The abatement of substandard or dilapidated buildings is one of the most important and sensitive functions of a Building Department and one of the most disagreeable. In many cases the appearance is mistakenly given of the Building Department taking the side of the property owner who wishes to have the tenants of a low rent building vacate, so as to allow for essential repairs or demolition of the structure.

The Building Department also has the responsibility to ensure that in existing buildings minimum standards are maintained to make them safe, sanitary and fit for human habitation. To ensure that developers in the preparation and execution of land development proposals adopt proper standards, the Building Department, collates the recommendations of various agencies and enforce same. This effectively eliminates any problems being experienced with the infrastructure within such developments.

It is my understanding that the Ministry of Local Government in conjunction with the Department of Surveying and Land Information of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of the West Indies engaged in a project to develop a Municipal, Social and Physical Infrastructure Database with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) capabilities where the Sangre Grande region was used as the pilot. To date nothing has been presented as a result of such initiative. If the GIS proposed is made available, so much more can be achieved by the Building Department, bearing in mind that it is estimated that between 75 - 80 percent of buildings constructed are done so without the required approvals.
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