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Maraval residents lose Arbor school lawsuit

The trinidad Guardian / A group of Maraval residents have lost their lawsuit challenging the decision of former planning minister Bhoe Tewarie to grant planning permission to a private school located on Long Circular Road.

Delivering an oral judgment in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday afternoon, justice Mira Dean-Armorer ruled that Tewarie had properly exercised his discretion when he granted the permission for the Arbor and Rosewood School in February 2015.

“The minister balanced the competing interests of the parties and acted proportionally,” Dean-Armorer said.

In their lawsuit, the Lower Maraval Residents Association, through its members Patricia Bryan and Marlene Guy, claimed that Tewarie unreasonably ignored the opinion of the Director of Highways, who was against granting the school permission, and favoured a traffic report commissioned by the schools. They also complained that Tewarie failed to consult with them before taking the decision.

Dean-Armorer rejected these claims as she said that the evidence showed that Tewarie had considered all the material before him before he made his decision.

She said that if Tewarie had listened solely to the report from the Director of Highways and complaints of residents, as contended by them, he would have abdicated his discretionary power.

As part of the ruling, Dean-Armorer ordered that residents pay the State’s legal costs for defending the claim.

The dispute between the residents and the school began in August 2014 after the school’s management company, EDFAM, announced plans to relocate the school from its previous location in St Clair.

The school began receiving opposition from a group of residents from neighbouring communities who banded together to raise concerns about the impact on the already dire traffic situation in the area during peak hours.

The residents association, also claimed that the school lacked necessary approval from the Diego Martin Regional Corporation, the Town and Country Planning Division and the Ministry of Education.

The corporation took EDFAM to court over the proposed moved but lost its case as the school received permission from Tewarie, while the lawsuit was still pending.

In that case, High Court judge Devindra Rampersad had ruled that the corporation had acted irrationally and unreasonably in rejecting EDFAM’s application for building permission from it.

Rampersad said the approval of the school’s traffic plan was not a requirement for the corporation to grant approval under Section 170 (1) of the Municipal Corporation Act.

The school was eventually opened in September 2015 and has been operating since.

In a interview following the judgment, EDFAM director Kirk De Souza, said his organisation was pleased that the protracted dispute was resolved.

Asked whether if he felt any of the concerns raised by residents materialised after the school was eventually opened, De Souza said no as he claimed that the school’s traffic plan alleviated the issue.

“I think we did some good for the neighbourhood and property value will go up for the same people who brought this action,” De Souza said.

Speaking briefly with reporters, the residents’ lawyer, Vivek Lakhan-Joseph, said that though his clients lost, they were happy to still challenge the process used by the minister and the Town and Country Planning Division.

“The judge delivered a very comprehensive decision and my clients are considering their options,” Lakhan-Joseph said.

The resident were also represented by Kiel Tacklalsingh and Rajiv Rickhi, while Jonathan Walker represented EDFAM, which was an interested party.

ABOUT THE SCHOOLS

The schools, founded in 2008 and 2010, require parents to make an $8,000 contribution to a capital fund, in addition to over $15,000 in annual school fees. Arbor is a kindergarten and Rosewood a primary and secondary school for girls. The joint student population is estimated at 220, in addition to 30 teachers. EDFAM, the non-profit organisation which runs the two schools, also runs Trimont College, a primary and secondary school for boys in Glencoe.

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