Bishop Friday calls for lifting of enforcement order served on church
Bishop of the Windward Islands, the Right Reverend Leopold Friday would like the Physical Planning and Development Board to lift an enforcement order served on the St George’s Cathedral on October 31, last year.
The enforcement order blocks the church from proceeding with repairs to the building located on Grenville Street in Kingstown.
But even before the enforcement order was served, the Church had been written to by Osei Morris, Vice Chairperson of the St Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust.
In that August 17, 2018 letter, it was stated that the Cathedral had been declared Protected National Heritage by The Trust in 2010 in order to ensure that “this building of architectural and cultural significance is preserved for posterity.”
And Morris said, “Our built heritage is arguably the best collection of our history and the 198-year-old St George’s Cathedral is a formidable example of this.”
The letter informed that the SVG National Trust is charged by law (Act #37 of 2007, Section 4) to locate, restore and conserve buildings of architectural and historic interest.
“This includes causing such a declaration to be made and advising the Physical Planning Department which also has responsibility for the protection of National Heritage (Town and Country Planning Act #45 of 1992, Section 24-25),” Morris said.
The Trust said they had been following the progress being made towards the conservation of the church and that a process of investigation and surveying was being executed.
Morris reminded the church that all work carried out on the building must be approved by them, as well as by the Physical Planning Department, which must be notified and provided with the plans and specifications and allowed full access to the site to carry out inspection of the work.
“Suitably qualified professionals must be employed to survey, prepare drawings and specifications and to execute the work,” the Trust told the management of the Cathedral.
In a response dated September 12, 2018, Bishop Friday informed the Trust that sections of the Cathedral had been declared unsafe and restoration efforts had begun over 10 years ago. The letter also said the church has not stopped having Sunday and weekday mass at the Cathedral, but the main service on Sunday is held at the Church of the Ascension at Sion Hill, and several professionals and consultants have opined that the main service should be returned to the Cathedral.
“By the grace of God it is our intention to restore the Cathedral as best as we can, with respect to what is feasible in relation to our financial resources and economic context, under the guidance and supervision of the requisite professionals. We will ensure that we are adhering to the laws of St Vincent and the Grenadines as we proceed,” Bishop Friday said in his letter to the Trust.
But someone close to the Trust said the repair process at the Cathedral was not being carried out by persons with the skills required to handle the refurbishment of historical structures, and damage was being done to the almost 200-year-old structure.
“They were trying to do things which are not in keeping with the historical architecture of the building,” the source said, and spoke about damage to a door and other areas.
The enforcement order stopped the refurbishment process and Bishop Friday told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that the church cannot move forward if the order is not lifted.
He said the church has not finalized the cost of the repairs and they have not been able to raise all the required funds, which runs into the millions of dollars, but they have some funds.
“We are hoping to do it in phases, and we don’t intend to change the structure in any way,” Bishop Friday said. He noted that he is not sure if the Trust will be contributing financially to the process and while the government allotted money in the 2018 Budget to aid in the refurbishment process, the church has never acted to collect the funds.
“The work on the church is held up,” said Bishop Friday.
On November 16, Grenville John, Secretary to the Incorporated Trustees of the Anglican Church wrote to the Secretary of the Physical Planning and Development Board, applying for the enforcement order to be immediately withdrawn on the basis that there was no contravention of any of the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act as alleged.
John said the work which was being done at the Cathedral when the enforcement order was served was restricted to the replacement of some flooring boards, for which planning permission under the Act was not a requirement.
Furthermore, said John, no notice had been served on Church authorities that the Cathedral had been included on a list of approved buildings of architectural or historic interest.
He said an assertion that the Cathedral had been declared Protected National Heritage in 2010 by the SVG National Trust is “misconceived” as this cannot be confirmed as having been published in the Government Gazette in 2010 or at any other time.
“… Moreover, such a declaration would amount to expropriation of Church property. Such unilateral arrogation by a state agency, would be repugnant to the sensibilities of the Church and is inconceivable. In any event it would warrant the necessity for the Incorporated Trustees to receive such compensation as may be appropriate in the circumstances. A failure on the part of the Government to comply with this statutory mandate would be unconstitutional as a breach of the Diocese’s protection from deprivation from its property, which is enshrined and protected under Section 6 of the Constitution of SVG,” the Secretary to the Trustees said in the letter to the Physical Planning Board.
The Bishop also met with the Prime Minister on November 7, accompanied by the Very Reverend Otis S Nichols, Dean of the Cathedral. That meeting was followed up by a letter to the Prime Minister on December 13, for which the Bishop says he has not had a response.
In a February 5, 2019 letter to parishioners, the Bishop said, “…After much thought, counsel and prayer, I think it will be best to share with you, correspondence concerning this matter, which transpired over the past six months or so. I invite you to prayerfully read and reflect on them. I must inform you that to date we have not received any response from the Secretary of the Physical Planning and Development Board, nor the Prime Minister.”
But on Wednesday, Town Planner Tyrone Ballah said when he and Bishop Friday met with Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves last year, the Prime Minister instructed them to work out the issue, but he has not been able to meet with the management team of the Cathedral.
“The church has not made an application and we are supposed to meet with them to have a discussion. That is what we are trying to do.
“When we heard they were doing work, our officers went four different times and left messages for them to visit, because it is a building that was declared historic…and they did not turn up and we served a notice for them to stop,” Ballah told SEARCHLIGHT.
He added that Cathedral management has cancelled meetings scheduled with the Physical Planning Division.
“…One time they say they were unavailable and the next time they cancelled a meeting when I was on my way to it,” Ballah noted while adding that he is hoping that the church will meet with them soon.
“We know it is a historic building and that work is costly, but there is always a way to do something and you can’t be irresponsible and say history ain’t matter. I am hoping that we can sit down and have a discussion,” Ballah said.
On Wednesday, acting chairperson of the SVG National Trust Decima Hamilton said the Trust wants to have a discussion with the Church to thrash out things.
She said that they have been inviting the Church to meetings in writing and orally, but they have not been able to have these meetings, and after the discussions with the church, they will decide a way forward.
Hamilton also noted that there is an Act that speaks to the way national heritage buildings are supposed to be dealt with, and although the St. Georges Cathedral is not yet on the list, it soon will be.