On multiple occasions over the past 13 years, the Town and Country Planning Department has announced its intention to draft a National Physical Development Plan for the territory.

It never happened.

Fortunately, that may change soon: Though previous attempts reportedly stalled because of legislators’ failure to allocate funds for the project, a grant from the European Union’s Global Climate Change Alliance will enable the plan to be completed next year, leaders said last week.

This is great news. The NPDP — which is required under the 2004 Physical Planning Act — is urgently needed given that the territory has been rapidly developing its limited land space, often with precious little coordination or long-term vision.

The adverse effects of this approachcan be seen across the Virgin Islands: traffic congestion, disaster risks, neighbourhood spats, environmental degradation, a general lack of charm in some areas, and illegal development, to name a few.

A well-conceived NPDP would serve as a valuable tool to help guide future planning decisions with an eye toward community consensus and long-term sustainability.

Doubtlessly, the creation of the strategy will spark intensive public dialogue. But this is healthy. Indeed, ongoing conversations about development are badly needed here, and too often dialogue doesn’t begin until a major project is a done deal and opposition has reached a fever pitch.

The TCPD is rightly promising to hold extensive public consultations in order to gather input in the coming months: Residents will be invited to express their views on the plan via public meetings, an online system and the post.

The whole community should weigh in. Anyone who stays silent now will be on shaky ground indeed if they complain about the plan after it takes effect.

We hope that the consultations will begin straightaway and that the plan will be completed by June 2018 as scheduled.

Even then, the document will be only a first step: The NPDP is expected to set fairly broad guidelinesthat presumably won’t include legally binding restrictions such as zoning.

However, it should lay a solid groundwork for more detailed area plans that do include such restrictions, and the TCPD should use the momentum provided by the NPDP’s completion to move steadily in that direction.

After that, leaders and other residents will need to work together to ensure that all development guidelines are conscientiously followed and properly enforced.

The current lack of even a basic development strategy means that the territory has fallen far behind many other developed countries when it comes to planning.

Here’s hoping the NPDP will mark the turning of a new leaf.

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