Don’t take Cornwall Beach from locals
"Jamaica's beaches are among the most important natural resources with which this island is blessed. Beaches are vital for the well-being of our people," declared the minister of environment in 2000.
In the 2015 Budget presentation, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said, "We are ensuring that our children will have access to the best beaches in Jamaica."
If the above quotes represent the posture of a high, and the highest ranking political representative in Jamaica, why is it that the Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris, supported by a few councillors blindly loyal to him, or to the aura of some with deep pockets, taking steps in a direction which will exclude locals and visitors who may not be guests at a particular all-inclusive hotel from having access to Cornwall Beach? Why is it that locals are being forced to use the lesser beaches in Montego Bay?
The Town and Country Planning (St James Parish) Development Order 1978, amended in 1982, outlines the facts as it relates to beaches in St James. It informs us that in 1978, there were 10,635 feet of sea frontage with varying uses along the coastline of St James. The coastline of St James is 271/2 miles, but no more than two miles can be used for bathing, fishing, or beach park. This includes the fishing village along Howard Cooke Boulevard.
Today, the area has been drastically reduced, and many of the parish's bathing beaches have gone to accommodate hotel development, all of which are all-inclusives. Iberostar gobbled up Rose Hall Beach, while Riu consumed Damali Beach. Providence Beach is slated for expansion of the Sangster International Airport.
Move forward to 2014-15, there is now an attempt by Mayor Glendon Harris to 'deliver' Cornwall Beach into the hands of an all-inclusive hotel, namely Decameron All-inclusive Hotel and Resorts.
It is my opinion that this action is being done in a manner lacking in clarity and transparency, as the lease documents purportedly signed by the mayor do not make reference to Decameron, but the various permits being sought pursuant to the said lease do. Several councillors have been "surprised" by this development. Large gates and other exclusionary policies and practices have been implemented, and more is being proposed. The circumstances raise questions, and therefore, it would be appropriate for the Office of the Contractor General to carry out an investigation.
interest of the people
The effect of doing so is to close off public access to locals and any visitor who is not a guest of the hotel. In every respect, any one outside of the business of that hotel stands to lose; they will have to STAY OUT. How does that sit with the stated position of a minister of Government and the prime minister as can be reasonably assumed from the quotes?
It is painful to know that a state agency, the St James Parish Council, as owner of the Cornwall Beach, which merely holds the property on trust for the citizens of the City of Montego Bay and the noble parish of St James, should be pursuing an action which is depriving them of a quality facility without consultation. It was always my opinion that the council and the councillors led by the mayor should be doing what is in the best interests of the citizens and not just a few.
I was flabbergasted when Mayor Harris in defence of his move was quoted in The Sunday Gleaner of April 5, 2015 as saying, "There are many beach facilities available to locals, including Dump Up Beach, One Man Beach, Sunset Beach ... ."
In response to the mayor I say: "Those sea frontage are not facilities - the quality of sand/beach area is lacking. There are no rest rooms or changing rooms, and parking is non-existent. One Man Beach and Dump Up Beach suffer from beach erosion and pollution emanating from the North Gully."
The said Sunday Gleaner further quotes the mayor as saying: "You must be able to go to a beach that has amenities, the ones you can get a shower and the all inclusive, it is just like the cliché that says if your pocket is white rum, you drink white rum, if your pocket is whiskey, you drink whiskey."
In response I say, "Mr Mayor, the 'rum drinkers' are citizens of Jamaica. They are your voters who elected you to represent their interest. They are persons who we, as political representatives, should be encouraging and working with to ensure that they, too, can 'drink whiskey'. To be pushing them to the fringes and saying that they should confine themselves to sea frontage that is lacking the quality and the amenities of which you speak is a disservice to them. You should retract that statement and offer an apology."
If the move to exclude locals from Cornwall Beach is pursued, it also does a disservice to visitors who come to Jamaica for sea and sun, but for whatever reason use the villas, guest houses and smaller hotels that do not have a beach. Their options would be greatly restricted. Where is the voice of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association and the Association of Villa Operators?
Last, to deliver Cornwall Beach to Decameron All-inclusive Hotel and Resorts will lead to a situation which runs contrary to our own Development Order, which says: "No development will be permitted on land adjacent to the line of high water mark which would preclude public access TO AND ALONG the foreshore." I submit that this aspect of the Development Order MUST be upheld.
-Charles Sinclair is a councillor at the St James Parish Council and an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org