A car-rental agency being erected in Cane Garden Bay is one of many ongoing projects in what Premier Andrew Fahie described as a construction boom in the territory. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

Despite the economic downturn in 2020 related to the Covid-19 pandemic, Premier Andrew Fahie called 2020 “an extremely busy year” for the construction industry in the Virgin Islands.

The Town and Country Planning Department handled 134 more development applications in 2020 than it did in 2019, he said, adding that last year saw 464 filed versus 330 in 2019.

The department processed these applications despite being closed for six weeks during the initial 24-hour-per-day lockdown last year, the premier noted.

“As the lead agency responsible for regulating the construction industry, the Town and Country Planning Department continues to be at the forefront in driving economic activity in this industry,” he said. “With 464 development applications approved, it means a financial booster shot into the economy.”

The agency also processed 191 building permit applications, which the premier de- scribed as “a more firm indicator of actual ongoing construction activity.”

The department, he noted, was only fully open for about 10 months last year.

“Like the rest of the businesses in the economy during 2020, [the TCPD] was closed for a combined six weeks due to the pandemic, and also worked in a limited capacity for another two weeks while relocating from the R. T. O’Neal Administration Complex to its present location at the R.G. Hodge Plaza,” the premier said. He added that the TCPD was one of the “priority agencies” brought back onstream following the initial 24-hour lockdown period.

Due to pandemic-related protocols intended to limit in-person contact, he said, the department quickly implemented an electronic system to manage the application process, based on the existing application tracking database.

“Within a few weeks the department was able to launch a completely new electronic system of submitting applications,” Mr. Fahie said. “This is innovation.”

Electronic applications

For the past several months, he added, all applications have been processed electronically, including payments and stamping of documents.

“This electronic process has been embraced and applauded by the architects, engineers, surveyors and others that access the department’s services on a regular basis,” he said.The department expects the construction uptick to continue this year, according to the premier.

In the first quarter of 2021, the TCPD processed more than 150 planning applications, Mr. Fahie added, noting that if this pace holds, 2021 will surpass 2020 in the number of applications filed.

Mr. Fahie also said the construction activity will spread beyond the industry to increase the market for goods, materials, transportation services, and other “spinoff areas” of the economy.

“No doubt, the workers will have the need for meals and the spending power to support our food vendors and other businesses,” he said. “When they earn their salaries, their entire families will benefit.”

He added that more spending power for workers and their families means more money going into the rental market as well as supermarkets, salons and other shops.