Belize

 

Legislation and planning process in Belize

 Authors: Charisse Griffith-Charles and Mujeeb Alam

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Belize is the only English speaking country in central America, and is  located between 15° 52' and 18° 30' North Latitude and 87° 28' and 89° 13' West Longitude. It is bordered by Mexico in the north & west, Guatemala in the west & south, and the Caribbean Sea in the east. Belize occupies a land area of about 22,963 km2, including approximately 1,000 small islands known as Cayes (DoE Blize, 2014). Its population is approximately 340,000 and according to 2010 census report 54.9 % of the population lives in the rural areas  (Meerman, Mcgill, & Cayetano, 2011). Its climate is subtropical and June to November is considered to be wet season. Rainfall varies from 1500 to 3800 millimetres per year.  According to GFDRR report (2010), Belize is the 61st highest exposed country to relative mortality risk from hazards and 8th ranked country for climate risk in the world. The country has been hit by a number of hurricanes in the past, importantly, Hurricane Keith (2000) and Hurricane Iris (2001) which caused damage reaching 45 % and 25 % of the GDP respectively. Hurricane Hattie (1916) incurred the financial cost of US$ 413 million to the country (GFDRR, 2010). Tropical Storm Chantel (2001), caused BZD$ 31,437,617 in damage (CDB, 2006). Many settlements in Belize are at flood risk; both from inland (along streams and rivers) and coastal (caused by storm surge). 

The physical planning process in Belize

Physical Planning and Land Management legislation in Belize include:

  • Housing and Planning Act
  • Land Utilization Act
  • Belize Land Development Authority Act
  • North Ambergris Caye Development Corporation Act
  • Reconstruction & Development Corporation Act
  • Ancient Monuments & Antiquities Act
  • Land Acquisition (Public Purposes) Act
  • Land Acquisition (Promoters) Act
  • Belize City Council Act
  • Belmopan City Council Act
  • Town Council Act
  • Village Council Act
  • Banana Industry Act
  • Land Tax (Rural Land Utilization) Act
  • Land Tax Act
  • Mines and Minerals Act
  • Petroleum Act  
  • Environmental Protection Act
  • Public Health Act
  • Coastal Management Zone Act
  • Belize Tourist Board Act
  • Forest Act
  • Private Forests (Conservation) Act
  • National Park Systems Act
  • Fisheries Act, Fisheries (Amendment) Act
Land subdivision process in Belize 

Stage 1 - Provisional approval

  • Application submitted containing:
    • a sketch (drawn to scale) showing the proposed subdivision design (plus 8 copies),
    • location plan,
    • copy of land title,
    • a certified copy of the land register for all lands within a declared area under the Land Registration Act,
    • tax statement showing all taxes are paid to date,
    • mortgage declaration by the land owner for all land in undeclared areas, and
    • completed Provisional approval to subdivide application form (original plus 8 copies) (Annex 1).
    • Additional documentation may be required such as company documents, input from the local authority, and environmental clearance.
  • Applicant pays his/her application fee at the Land Revenue Section of The Ministry and provides a copy of the receipt to the Physical Planning Section (PPS).
  • application reviewed to ensure completeness and adherence to subdivision design requirements in accordance with the guidelines,
  • File opened for each subdivision application; each file is assigned an application number and is recorded in an application and index book lodged in the office of the PPS, and on the Application Management System (AMS).
  • PPS makes a determination of the complexity of the subdivision application and proceeds to submit to the Commissioner of Lands for approval subdivisions which fall under Sections 18(a) or 18(b) of The Act, These are:
    • All simple subdivisions (3 or less parcels);
    • Subdivisions where the resulting parcel (s) are to be combined to an adjacent land owner's (18a of The Act);
    • Subdivisions where the resulting parcels are to be transferred to the land owner's wife, husband, and/or children (18b of The Act).
  • Applications that do not meet the criteria set in Section 3 proceed as follows.
  • The applicant contacts the PPS regarding a site inspection for all subdivisions that are:
    • in low-lying areas,
    • In other sensitive areas including the cayes,
    • on the coastline,
    • in areas known to be hazardous, or
    • large subdivisions (20 or more parcels, or areas above 10 acres).
  • An agenda is prepared for each monthly meeting where applications are to be reviewed by The Authority, and a copy is submitted to the Chairperson (the Commissioner of Lands).
  • The file is processed according to the recommendations of The Authority after the monthly meeting, and the Secretary records the minutes of the meeting of the Authority and submits these to the PPS and also forwards applications recommended by The Authority to the Hon. Minister for approval
  • Correspondence prepared by the PPS to inform applicants of conditions for recommendation by The Authority and/or the approval/refusal of the subdivision application.
  • Where an application is recommended with conditions, the PPS informs the applicant of the conditions by letter within one week of the meeting and provides an opportunity for the applicant to comply with the conditions stipulated by The Authority.
  • Where an application is not recommended (Deferred) by The Authority and not approved by the Minister, the PPS informs the applicant.
  • The Applicant may either accept the decision, or amend his/her application for re-submission, or may present a case for just cause for re-consideration by The Authority. Applications deferred shall only be re-submitted a maximum of two (2) times for reconsideration.
  • Applications approved by the Minister are issued a Provisional approval to subdivide letter and a copy of Section 13 of the Land Utilization Act - this Section stipulates the conditions that the applicant must comply with.
  • The applicant submits the Provisional approval letter to a licensed surveyor to carry out a subdivision survey within one (1) year of the date of approval according to the proposed subdivision plan that was approved.
  • Once this survey is completed, the surveyor submits the survey plan to the Mapping Section, Lands and Surveys Department for Authentication within the one (1) year stipulated time.
  •  If the applicant fails to complete the survey with the above time period, he/she must re-apply for Provisional approval.
  • The applicant shall re- apply for Provisional approval to the Authority in the event of changes made in the subdivision design for a maximum of three (3) times.

  Stage 2 - Final approval

  • The Applicant submits his/her application plus 8 copies, within one (1) year from the date of Provisional approval, for Final approval to subdivide, along with
    • a blue print copy of the authenticated survey plan (plus 8 regular copies), and
    • a tax statement showing that all land taxes on the land are paid up-to-date
    • The PPS vets the application for completeness and attaches a checklist of documents to the application.
  • Applications that were approved under (3) in Stage 1 are submitted directly to the Commissioner of Lands for approval.
  • all other applications that do not meet criteria (3), in Stage 1, are put by the PPS on the Agenda for the next meeting of The Authority and a copy is submitted to the Chairperson (the Commissioner of Lands).
  • The secretary records the minutes of the monthly meeting of The Authority and submits these to the PPS.
  • The PPS forwards applications recommended by The Authority to the Hon. Minister for Final approval.
  • Where an application is recommended with conditions, the PPS informs the applicant by letter and provides an opportunity to comply with the conditions stipulated by The Authority.
  • The applicant may either accept the decision, or amend his/her application for re-submission, or may present a case for just cause for re-consideration by The Authority. Applications deferred shall only be re-submitted a maximum of two (2) times for reconsideration.
  • Issues a Final approval to subdivide letter for approved applications. This marks the end of stage 2
  • Where an application is not recommended by The Authority and not approved by the Minister, the PPS so informs the applicant.
  • Once Final approval is issued, the applicant may immediately transfer/alienate the subdivided/consolidated portions of land.

Variations in Provisional and Final Approval process 

Examples of more complex subdivisions include:

  • Applications that require environmental clearance by the Department of the Environment; for example
  • large scale housing developments or
  • a subdivision on mainland involving more than 300 lots,
  • housing developments of more than 50 houses in the cayes,
  • subdivisions of land that require land reclamation/or land creation, etc., as per the EIA Regulations,
  • Applications that require a certificate from a registered engineer from the Association of Professional Engineers of Belize (APEB); for example
  • developments in disaster-risk areas, for which the APEB needs to confirm that the site area has sufficient buildable area for its intended purpose,
  • Applications that require input from the Geology and Petroleum Department: for all subdivisions that require dredging/mining of minerals,
  • Applications that require input from the Fisheries Department: for all subdivision projects adjacent to or within areas that may impact this sector significantly,
  • Applications that require input from the Forest Department: for subdivisions that may require clearing of mangrove, littoral and other sensitive forested areas, or similar habitat,
  • Subdivisions of land within registered areas where additional land certification processes must be completed before subdivision

In Belize, the Housing and Town Planning Act (Housing and Town Planning Act 1947) was enacted in 1947 to regulate use and development of land. Under this Act, the Central Housing and Planning Authority (Central Authority) was established to administer the Act. It was the main piece of legislation for the planning in the country, which included both development planning and building control. However, in 2003, the Belize Building Act, 2003 (Act 2003), was passed, which repealed building functions within the Act 1947 and established the Central Building Authority to administer the building Act 2003. The Act 1947, was left with only planning functions and the Central Authority, which was established to implement Act 1947, does not physically exist anymore. In fact, no development planning (forward planning) is currently taking place on a national level for Belize due to the absence of the Central Authority. All planning initiatives are usually done under the externally funded projects coordinated by the Lands and Surveys department. The main towns in the country are administered by their respective municipal plans. However, for development at the lot level, the Land Utilization Act has been enforced since 1981. And in accordance with this Act, an 8 member, Land Subdivision and Utilization Authority (the Authority) was established to review sub-division applications. As per the land utilization Act, no person is allowed to perform any sub-division without the provisional approval of the concerned Minister for lands.  The Department of Lands and Surveys through its physical planning section receives and vets applications for land subdivision/consolidation. Once an application is vetted, it is then submitted to the Authority for its recommendations for the Minister. Provisional and final approval comes from the concerned Minister subject to the recommendations of the Authority. Sub-division guidelines have been prepared as a policy guide for developers, however; they have not yet been approved as regulations.

Status of hazard and risk information in Belize 

In Belize, no government agency is producing hazard and risk information, however; according to the law (Governement of Belize, 2000) i.e. the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act, 2000, under section, Part II 4(2)(f), the Head of the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) is responsible for providing hazard maps. The Act states that the organisation should "prepare and review disaster risk assessment maps of Belize". However, they are not currently producing this information. Table 3 provides an overview of different hazard maps produced for Belize. 

 Table 1: List of different hazard maps prepared for Belize

 

Type

Purpose/ Description

Coverage Area

Scale

Date produced

Author/Consultant

Source of information


Coastal flooding


Storm hazard assessment for St Lucia and Belize.


combined storm surge and wave hazards


Caye Caulker, and Ambergris Caye


1:25,000


Unknown


Kinetic Analysis Corporation


 


(Kinetic Analysis Corporation, n.d.)


Wind hazard


Storm hazard assessment for St Lucia and Belize


Caye Caulker, and Ambergris Caye


1:25,000


Unknown


Kinetic Analysis Corporation


Coastal flooding


Storm hazard assessment for St Lucia and Belize.


combined storm surge and wave hazards


San Pedro


1:10,000


Unknown


Kinetic Analysis Corporation


Wind hazard


Storm hazard assessment for St Lucia and Belize


San Pedro


1:10,000


Unknown


Kinetic Analysis Corporation


Belize flood risk map


Unknown


Entire country


Unknown


1992


Kings et al


Principal Planner, Beliz


Belize wildfire risk map


 


Entire country


Unknown


2007


Jan Meerman


http://biological-diversity.info/fire.htm


National scale flood hazard map


Under the World Bank CHARIM project


Entire country


 


February  2015


SSBN


(Bristol University, UK)


ITC

 

Inclusion of disaster risk management in physical planning policies and development work in Belize

 In Belize, forward development planning does not currently occur. The main activity of the physical planning section is administering land sub-division. In the process of reviewing proposals for sub-division, hazard considerations are included in the form of setbacks and buffers. For example, development is not allowed within 66 feet from the high water mark, river, creek or other main water body. Furthermore, a buffer is required in addition to the 66 feet reserve, for any area that is known to have a high risk of flooding, as a way of mitigating against loss of life and damage to property. For large sub-divisions, environmental impact assessment is mandatory and for certain projects applicants have to prepare flood evacuation plans and receive clearance from NEMO. 

Recently, the Belize municipal government developed a Master plan for Belize City.  In this plan, the issue of flooding and drainage is specifically addressed, since Belize city is located at the mouth of the Belize river and at the waterfront of the Caribbean Sea. Therefore, it is highly susceptible to both riverine flooding as well as storm surge. The following strategies were proposed for flood risk mitigation and control in the city (PADECO, 2011)

  1. Prioritize spatial planning to avoid placing new development in flood risk areas
  2. Minimize the probability and severity of flood (control)
  3. Minimize the potential consequences of a flood on occupants and properties (mitigation)

Several mitigative and control measures were then defined under each strategy and integrated into the Master plan for flood risk management in the city.

The government of Belize recently produced a national land-use policy for land resource development in the country. The policy encompasses many important land development issues including land use planning in relation to flood risk and suggested several strategies for flood risk management (Meerman et al., 2011). The strategies include; development restrictions in high flood risk areas, use of flood plains only for agricultural activities provided that they do not further increase the flooding risk, preparation of flood hazard maps for both inland and coastal areas and making development planning decisions based on such information, protection of wetlands, and discouraging permanent infrastructure development in floodplains, reforestation on hillsides, potential landslide areas, and other areas which may cause high run-off. These strategies would be beneficial to adopt; however, no specific government department has the responsibility of implementing the land-use policy (document) and therefore flood risk management.

For Belize, therefore, the national hazard mitigation policy document and the national hazard mitigation plan have been prepared. Both documents stress upon the need for integration of hazard risk reduction into the national development process and sectoral planning. However, these documents have not been formally approved by the parliament in order to be able to be enforced. 

References 

  • CDB. (2006). Belize national hazard mitigation plan (p. 129).
  • DoE Belize. (2014). National environmental policy and strategy (2014-2024) (p. 69). Belize.
  • GFDRR. (2010). Disaster risk management in Latin America and the Caribbean region: GFDRR country notes (Belize) (p. 12).
  • Government of Belize. Belize disaster preparedness and response act (chapter 145) (2000). Belize: Laws of Belize.
  • Meerman, J., Mcgill, J., & Cayetano, M. (2011). Belize: National land use policy for land resource development (p. 52). Belize.
  • PADECO. (2011). Belize: Issues of flood mitigation and drainage (annex 08). Belize. Retrieved from http://belizecitycouncil.org/Master_Plan_Documents