(PRESS RELEASE) — Social and regular media was abuzz this week over the Saint Lucia National Trust’s decision to secure a Court Order to halt the demolition of the Castries Prison, formerly known as the Royal Gaol. We welcome the public debate on this important matter and look forward to engaging in further dialogue aimed at consensus on the way forward. It is in this context we present the following for your information.
On Thursday September 6th, we learned of ongoing demolition works at the Castries Prison. We visited the site and found demolition works in progress on structures adjacent to the prison. Upon enquiry, we learned that the completed demolition works were preliminary to the demolition of the main structure. Our attempts to find out upon whose authority a public building was being demolished and whether the Development Control Authority (DCA) had approved the demolition were unsuccessful. We therefore wrote to the DCA on Friday September 7th, asking that a stop order be issued pending further investigations. The stop order was not issued and when we visited the site on Saturday September 8th, we found demolition works progressing apace. If demolition continued over the weekend, the heritage would be lost forever. In light of this, the Council felt there was no other option but to pursue an injunction against the continued demolition.
Our search on Monday September 10th of the DCA Register of Approved Projects did not reveal any approval for the demolition works at the Prison. We have therefore requested copies of the relevant Development Application and minutes of the meeting at which DCA approval was granted.
The Trust does not own the Prison building – it is owned by the State. However, we have a legal mandate to, inter alia, “locate and to promote the preservation of buildings and objects of archaeological architectural, historic, artistic or traditional interest”. It is in pursuit of this mandate that we were regrettably forced into legal recourse to meet this commitment imposed upon us by law.
To be clear, the Trust is not against development. We support, indeed embrace responsible, sustainable development, to meet the needs of current and future generations. In the context of the Prison, we find it difficult to fathom the haste to demolish the structure without consultations with the agencies charged with conservation of the nation’s heritage, into the planning process. We are told that the intention is to redevelop the site as part of the Halls of Justice project. If this is the case, or even if the intention is to provide much needed improved working conditions for the police, we expect this and any other major works within the City to be part of the consultation process with key stakeholders to arrive on consensus on the way forward.
The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has been commissioned to produce a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the City of Castries. In our discussions with the Prime Minister, we were told that any decision regarding the Walcott Place project will remain on hold until that study is complete. It is therefore expected that plans to demolish the Prison, the Government Printery, the House of Parliament and the High Court would also be part of the UNOPS study and not be decided upon until it is complete, or plans and funding to replace them are in place, particularly, as in this case, some of the structures provide essential services, so that they may continue to be available.
The Trust has traditionally been called upon to provide referral services to the DCA, and finds it highly unusual that the DCA would approve the demolition of an historic building without the matter being referred to us, or indeed to other preservation organisations such as the Archaeological and Historical Society for our views on the matter.
We agree that conditions at Police Headquarters are in dire need of upgrade for far too long, but it is unclear if the intention for the site is solely to provide improved working conditions for the Police or will incorporate the Halls of Justice, or both. We are of the view, therefore, that other stakeholders such as the Castries Constituency Council, the Police, the Judiciary, the Environmental Health Department and Associations with expertise in Engineering and Architecture should be consulted on a vision and redevelopment plans for the site, preferably as part of the holistic process which we understand the UNOPS project is tasked with, which would include opportunities for integration of the current structure and the adjoining burial ground into the project.
We have heard arguments supporting demolition on the grounds that it was built with slave labour. We reject this argument because it asks us to reject the reality of slavery, which defined our past and continues to have lingering influences our present. The Prison is a stark reminder of this reality and its use to imprison those who built it, and continued in time to imprison their lineage, is integral to our history. Examples abound of structures built with slave labour that are preserved as monuments to their suffering.
In 2016 the Trust compiled a preliminary list of two hundred and fifty (250) buildings throughout the country for possible inclusion in a list of building deserving of protection because of their architectural or historic significance. This was a tedious process involving seeking public assistance in identifying buildings that may qualify for listing, seeking the owners’ approval to document the identified structures, conducting measured surveys, photographing the building, including their unique features, recording the GPS locations, researching ownership of Block and Parcel numbers and documenting any stories of the building from persons who know their history. The list is not complete, as indeed it may never be, as we will continuously be adding and removing entries in the database. We were also reviewing draft legislation to give legal effect to the List. Unfortunately, this is one of the projects we were forced to place on hold when our subvention was removed.
The Trust remains committed to fulfilling its mandate for the greater good of the country, and in circumstances that impose severe resource constraints on the organisation. The Act that created the Trust envisioned a role that will balance conservation with development. The Trust will continue to stay true to its raison d’être, which we accept will place us at odds with the authorities from time to time. Anything less will erode our commitment to ensuring conservation of the Nation’s heritage is incorporated into sustainable development for a thriving and proud Saint Lucia.