The 1827 building known as the Royal Gaol is gone, demolished last Saturday, a move that not only astounded members of the Saint Lucia National Trust (SLNT) who have a vested interest in the building, but one that threw the government and the Trust into yet another confrontation regarding the building.
Now the SLNT is exploring legal options, claiming that the Government of Saint Lucia purposefully breached an agreement the two sides had regarding what should be done about the building.
Already outraged by Saturday’s demolition of the building, the tempers of members of the SLNT flared even more when a planned peaceful protest by them Tuesday at Constitution Park was blocked by police officers who sealed off the Park, located right next to the Parliament building where the House of Assembly was meeting that same morning.
Members, undaunted, still aired their displeasure to the media at what they say was government’s autonomous decision to knock down the Royal Goal despite having agreed to consult with the SLNT before doing anything with or to the building.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has since dismissed allegations of high-handedness, inconsideration and arrogance thrown at him from persons not in favour of the demolition of the oldest building in Castries, said to have immense historical value. He said government had not gone back on its word nor had it breached the agreement between the two parties. The prime minister told reporters Tuesday that government reserves the right to act the way it did in demolishing the Royal Goal.
Alison King, the SLNT’s Director, Tuesday, warned Saint Lucians to be on their guard with this government where their rights are concerned. She labelled the demolition of the Royal Gaol as a flagrant, deliberate and scandalous breach of an agreement government and the SLNT had concerning what was left of the Royal Gaol on Upper Bridge Street.
Even Opposition Leader Philip J Pierre weighed in on the matter describing the action by the government to demolish the building as one lacking trust.
But despite what both sides say, the question that needs to be answered, the answer to which should be crystal clear to everyone, is whether the government indeed breached the agreement it had with the SLNT.
To accurately answer one must take a look at a Letter of Agreement dated 24 October, 2018 from the current Attorney General to Peter Foster, counsel to the Trust, in a claim that pitted the SLNT against the Commissioner of Crown Lands, the Development Control Authority and contractor Cyril Dornelly.
The Attorney General, Stephen Julien, in that letter wrote thus: “I hereby give my undertaking to the Trust that the demolition of the buildings depicted on slide no. 35 in the Trust’s PowerPoint presentation as Original Royal Gaol and Historic Annex Building shall cease until such time as consultation between the Trust and the Government of saint Lucia or its servants or agents, including the Office of the Prime Minister, in relation to the plans for the development of the old prison are concluded and consideration given to the recommendations of the Trust. It is understood that the Government of Saint Lucia shall not be obliged to act in accordance with all or any of the recommendations of the Trust.”
The letter also went on to state that “In this regard, it is understood that Cyril Dornelly will not undertake any demolition works on the old prison nor shall the Government of Saint Lucia action the decision of the Development Control Authority made on the 7, September 2018, until such time as the consultation between the Trust and the Government of saint Lucia set out in my undertaking below is completed. It is further understood between the parties that the decision by the Development Control Authority did not include the Baron Asylum and the police offices as depicted on slide 35. This undertaking is given on condition that the terms set out below are agreed and on the condition that the Application for Leave for Judicial Review filed on 17 September, 2018 is withdrawn by the Trust and the injunction order made on 9 September, 2018 is discharged with no liability for damages to any party and no order for costs against any party.”
Another letter by Attorney General Stephen Julien dated 4 March, 2019 mentioned two meetings between the Trust and architects assigned to the Police Headquarters Project earmarked for the site of the old prison. These meetings took place on 7 December, 2018 and 25 February, 2019.
The architects, at both meetings, made presentations of the conceptual designs for the Police Headquarters Project. Attorney General Julien wrote in this letter that “the proposed layout indicates that the former Royal Gaol, Historic Annex, Baron Asylum and Police Buildings will be incorporated into the design. This is again consistent with the undertakings previously given.”
The Attorney General went on to invite the Trust to submit any recommendations concerning the conceptual designs as presented by the architects, requesting the recommendations to be submitted to his offices by 15 march, 2019.
“These recommendations will be considered by the government in developing the final design for the project,” Julien wrote.
The Trust is clear that the government violated part five of the Agreement which was that the Trust was supposed to see the plans that were to go before the DCA and provide a review of these plans. This, the Trust noted, was never done.
“It is a clear breach of the actual agreement. The agreement came out of a court order and the Trust agreed to discharge its injunction in lieu of the agreement. We did this in good faith, meaning we would trust the government,” SLNT member Calixte George, Jr. said.
According to George, after meeting with the architects the Trust did not see any of the final drawings however was shown “a few renderings” which did not incorporate the Royal jail despite the Attorney General in the 4 March, 2019 letter claiming that the old prison and other buildings will be incorporated into the final design for the Police Headquarters project.