Mayor Commits To Transform City Slum - 03/06/14 10:39 AM
But serving himself a heaping dose of self-praise wasn't the only thing that the mayor did on his council's second anniversary. He went into an area that most professional politicians with any instinct for self-preservation stay far from – that's Conch Shell Bay, one of the poorest, most enduring slums of Belzie City. But the mayor went there, and he did so with a posse, including the heads of the Methodist and Anglican Churches, backed up by Hand in Hand Ministries, and the Lands Commissioner. That's a combo which should have the cure for any combination of spiritual, material and social ills. The mayor says he's determined to transform Conch Shell Bay:
Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City Council
"As a result of Councillor Willoughby's involvement, he managed to procure donations of material, so that today, you will be seeing that every single area is going to be filled. Ever lot in the area will be filled. Councillor Willoughby will be distributing plywood to residents and also zinc material. So, it's a think that we are trying to do what we can. These are often times band aid solutions because when we originally did our assessment, the need of people in this community is far greater than what we can handle with these kinds of interventions. So that, what we are trying to do also is Councilor Willoughby will be leading a partnership with the churches and with hands in hands to see if we can work with a more permanent solution. This morning, we had a meeting with the Commissioner of Lands to see if they could arrange and rectify all the title issues that are in this area."
Wilbert Vallejos, Commissioner of Lands
"By looking at it just now, I can conclude that development happened here without any sort of permissions or following any guidelines per se. So much so that houses are very close to each other so you can barely know just by looking at it where the property boundaries are or where are the roads and things like that. So in simple words it's chaotic."
Conch Shell Bay Resident #1
"We are living on this land for so long. Back here, is what we call squatters rights. It's not everybody who live here has land paper to live here, but you know what, we're trying our best. We are trying to talk to Mr. Willoughby, and if he said that he will do something, he will do it. So, we believe him."
"What the Lands Department's role is - is basically offering technical assistance. Our planners are going to come next week and they're going to pick up the building footprints and the coordinates of each structure that exists in this area, and prepare a subdivision layout as how it exists. And then we're going to provide that to the City Council who then will call a meeting with all stakeholders and look at the plan and see how it can be properly adjusted to accommodate everybody's situation. When we've come up with the development proposal and everybody has agreed, particularly the residents, because they have to agree with it, then we can proceed to survey the land, or re-survey the land in accordance to how it is. Hopefully it's not going to be a very, very challenging situation."
Conch Shell Bay Resident #2
"So of the land that these houses are one is off of sisters' or brothers' properties tha tthey are living on."
"In trying to settle the issue, we recognize that we have multiple interest over one parcel of land, and so there is the social aspect it, family disputes and things like that. So, we are forming a committee that is going to bring a lot of credibility and transparency in the regularization process."
Are you able to make a commitment that this Conch Shell Bay, which has been almost a permanent slum, will be transformed into a regularized, low income area?"
"We are able to make that commitment, and the reason that we're able to make that commitment is that this area, Conch Shell Bay encircle a million dollar investment that the City and Central Government has made over the last year."
Conch Shell Bay Resident #1
"Today, I saw a Mayor come, a Bishop come through to see the people. We also had Hands in Hands come, and they visited us, and they saw what all we need around here. Here is the last place the Ministers ever look at."
Conch Shell Bay Resident #2
"It's the first time in history, whether PUP or UDP, anybody ever came to the Conch Shell Bay and start to do something."
And while residents are thankful to finally get some institutional attention, the man who set it all up is Phillip Willoughby. He wants to represent the UDP in the Albert division, even though the party already has an elected representative in the constituency, Herman Longworth. But Philloughby – as we like to call him – is going hard in "the Alberts", and this afternoon he followed up the morning session with a delivery of plywood and zinc sheets. He discussed his ambition:
"We know that this is a part of the Albert Division, and you intend to offer yourself as a candidate for the Albert Division."
Phillip Willoughby, Aspiring Political Candidate
"Jules, for me it's about the baby I have in my hands. It's about the future of the residents of the Conch Shell Bay area. You know we go to Municipal Elections early next year, and you know it's no secret that I have interest in contesting a convention hopefully in the near future to represent the persons in the Albert Constituency."
"No convention will be held until the Government's last year in office for elected representatives, so then, you are jumping the gun, because we are at least 2 years away from that."
It is all about timing, the longer the convention will be drawn out, is better for me to build that relationship each household, each home, each individual."