RESIDENTS in Juffair have only days left to find an alternative location for a new power station which threatens to swallow up more than half of land earmarked for a new housing project.
Energy Minister Dr Abdulhussain Mirza agreed to halt work for seven days until Monday to allow their representatives to negotiate with the government.
He made the decision during a meeting with residents at his office in the Diplomatic Area following intervention from Capital Governor Shaikh Hisham bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa.
The Manama Municipal Council last month voted against the plant, saying it would occupy more than half of land set aside for government apartments.
But those who stand to benefit from the project have refused to accept them unless the housing project goes ahead as originally planned.
Work on the development was due to resume last month after being delayed by a wrangle between government ministries about who owned the land.
The dispute appeared to have been resolved, but it has now emerged an agreement reached between the Housing Ministry and Energy Ministry would see the number of new apartments more than halved from 100 to 46 to accommodate the power station.
Council technical committee chairman and area councillor Hussain Qarqoor has now sought permission from the council to officially negotiate with the government in a bid to resolve the issue.
He is set to attend a meeting between the Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Ministry and Energy Ministry about the project tomorrow.
Mr Qarqoor will be accompanied by Shaikh Hisham, Bahrain Parliamentary Bloc vice-president and area MP Hassan Bukhammas and former General Federation for Bahrain Trade Unions secretary-general Abdulghaffar Abdulhussain, who will represent residents.
"Dr Mirza acknowledges residents' need to have the land to have their complete housing project, but he said that the land was allocated by the Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Ministry after a request for a suitable location," said Mr Qarqoor.
"The Energy Ministry just asked for land and it was given our land out of all of those available, whether government or private, which is saddening as it has created the mess that Juffair residents have to deal with," he said.
"We would like to thank Shaikh Hisham for the initiative that has been bought us time from Dr Mirza during which we will have to get the Energy Ministry other land as replacement and in return work on the new power station will stop.
"Dr Mirza said they need the station running before May as many newly constructed multistorey buildings were waiting for electricity to open for business."
Mr Qarqoor warned of a potential backlash from residents if a deal was not reached.
"We have angry residents who will do anything to get their land back and we don't want to see an outburst that no one can control. Hopefully things won't reach that level," he said.
The location of the housing project was changed several times before His Majesty King Hamad earmarked land for it in February 2010 after meeting community leaders from Juffair.
He also agreed the government would buy dilapidated homes from people in the area so they could move out - allowing work to start on the apartment blocks.
Residents refused to leave until early last year, but finally agreed to sell.
However, work on the new housing development was halted in December after it was discovered the plot had been registered in the name of the Energy Ministry.
Construction crews had already fenced off the location and bulldozed an abandoned US Navy camp and several properties when the contractor hired by the Housing Ministry stopped work and removed its equipment.
Plans for the land also included a new building for the Juffair Charitable Society and one for the Al Nasr Club, which was in line for an expansion.
Officials from the Housing and Energy Ministries were unavailable for comment.