Bass: “I am pleased that the courts confirmed so emphatically the public’s right”

The Nevis Island Administration Department of Physical Planning has lost yet another battle in court against home owner Anne Bass.

Late last week, the Court of Appeal dismissed the director of physical planning’s appeal and upheld Justice Lorraine Williams’ ruling in January 2017 that the public has a right to access and copy documents related to land development applications made to the Nevis Island Administration’s Department of Physical Planning.

When contacted by the Observer Thursday, Bass said the judge’s decision “speaks for itself.”

“The decision speaks for itself, but, of course, I am pleased that the courts confirmed so emphatically the public’s right to see documents filed at the Nevis Department of Physical Planning when developers are seeking permission to build new developments,” he said. “I do believe that this will help ensure that new developments on Nevis conform with existing laws that were passed in order to protect the island’s pristine and beautiful environment.”

According to the official court document, Bass alleged that in January and February 2016, her agent, Sorell Negro, visited the department of physical planning and requested copies of documents relating to the application of Candy Resort. Her agent was allowed to see the plans, however, pictures or copies of the plans or other document were not allowed. Bass, through her attorneys, wrote to the director of physical planning requesting access to the documents related to the Candy Resort Development pursuant to Section 47 of the Nevis Physical Planning and Development Control Ordinance Cap 6.09(N). There was no response to counsel’s letter by the defendant, and the claimant, being dissatisfied, filed this action for judicial review.

In corresponded with the Observer, Negro, who is with Robinson & Cole LLP, noted that “This new legal precedent is being viewed by many as a victory for the public’s right of access to government records and the promotion of transparency in the land development approval process in Nevis.”

Continuing, she said “the Court of Appeal’s decision brings an abrupt end to the practices of the NIA’s Department of Physical Planning to limit the public’s right to access information submitted in the planning and development process of Nevis.”

In Justice Williams’ judgment of January 2017, the High Court ruled that the director of physical planning acted “unlawfully and illegally” when his department refused to allow public access to documents regarding a currently stalled development project known as the “HTRIP Candy Resort.”

Negro revealed that the Candy Resort is the subject of another legal challenge by Bass, as she claims that the planning permission for the project was unlawfully granted by the NIA’s Department of Physical Planning..

“Now that the Court of Appeal has upheld Justice Williams’ ruling, the law of Nevis is settled on the question of whether or not the public has a right to access land development application documents filed with the department of physical planning,” Negro said. “The public now clearly has a right to access the department of physical planning’s register for the purpose of viewing, inspecting and copying the contents of applications and supporting materials submitted to the department.”

The NIA will now have a hefty court fee to pay as the Court of Appeal also awarded Bass costs for having to defend the judgment on appeal.

“It is hoped that the planning authorities of Nevis will not seek to further frustrate the obligation of transparency confirmed by the High Court and the Court of Appeal,” Negro said.