Nelson Mandela Park

Thousands petition against astroturf idea: Nelson Mandela Park, St Clair. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has responded to the Port of Spain City Corporation’s plans to transform Nelson Mandela Park into a “modern Public Wellness and Sports Tourism Hub”.

The plan includes the laying down of an artificial turf to replace the natural grass, at a cost of $20,000.

But in a post on social media this morning, Rowley said:

Replacing the natural environment at Mandela Park with artificial turf is a salesman’s foolish idea that ought not to waste the time or the resources of the Port of Spain Corporation.

The Government is sure the Corporation can put its time and money to much better use and spare us all this unnecessary aggravation.

On Saturday, the Epress reported the view of former president of the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) Afra Raymond,\who said that some spaces are of such significance that they should only be altered after the greatest care and consideration.

The project is part of the Government’s planned revitalisation of the capital city.

But some aspects of the plan have met with criticism from stakeholders, including the proposal to install a synthetic surface playing field, known as 3G astroturf, instead of grass.

Last week, during a consultation exercise, Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez outlined the advantages of the proposed revitalisation, including the development of the 3G turf facility, which he said was developed for intensive use because of its durable, resilient nature, and improvement to the design of the park to facilitate increased public use and host multiple sporting events.

Former Port of Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing called the astroturf proposal a “waste of resources”, and said there were more crucial things this money could be spent on.

He said the installation of astroturf, as well as the proposal to privatise the park, is the beginning of an “all-out attack on the freedom of use” of the parks and squares across the capital city.

Raymond told the Sunday Express he was not sure about the rationale for changing the park’s surface, “especially in light of the required maintenance for these artificial surfaces”.

The project is expected to cost some $20 million, according to a proposal document sent to the Sunday ­Express.

Additionally, Raymond said privatisation of the park would limit access to poorer citizens.

The proposal details a private-public partnership (PPP) model where private entities would fund the design, construction and maintenance, and a fee be charged for use of the facility.

Users would also have to schedule a time to use the facility via an online booking system.

“Privatisation and PPP can have the effect of limiting or ending access to public facili­ties for poorer citizens, so we would need to have solid guarantees of rights to access, regardless of income,” Raymond said. “Of course, that kind of approach is contrary to a model which relies on paying customers or groups. From what I understand, the private sector party is making the capital investment, for which an acceptable rate of return will no doubt be part of the arrangement.”

Raymond, however, said he believed the proposal was unsolicited.

“Which means that it is being considered in a situation which is non-competitive.”

He called on Martinez to put the proposal out for the public to review.

He noted that the public has been invited to submit comments on a proposal it has not seen.

“If there is a proposal, please publish it,” he said. “I understand that PoSCC hosted a consultation with stakeholders on Monday, 26th July, 2021, and have invited final comments by Sunday, 1st August, 2021, with the actual proposal as yet unpublished. So what are we being asked to comment upon? Is this an error, an oversight or are public officials being obtuse with us? Is (Port of Spain City Corporation) intentionally concealing this proposal?”

Raymond added that there has not been sufficient consultation on the matter.

“A project of this significance needs to be widely advertised so as to attract the fullest possible participation and exchanges,” he said. “If indeed the PoSCC has ­decided that these facilities are in need of ‘revitalisation’ it would be interesting to learn on what basis was that decision taken.

“Some spaces are of such significance that those should only be altered after the greatest care and consideration—no hustle, no bustle. Nelson Mandela Park is certainly such a space.”

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