Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Christopher Whyms-Stone | Build Parliament on periphery

Published:Monday | June 12, 2017 | 6:00 AM

The Government of Jamaica (GOJ) has implied that its public disclosure of intentions to pursue the construction of a new Parliament building complex at National Heroes Circle was responded to with an unsolicited expression of interest from China Construction of Americas (CCA).

It was established that there did not exist sufficient information for CCA to determine if the project would be feasible based on the business model they proposed to the GOJ. The media has said that China proposed to finance, build and then sell the development to GOJ with a structured mortgage plan.

The PM has said that an MOU was signed with CCA for the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) to assist it with gathering and preparing sufficient information to determine the administrative and construction costs. The GOJ has said that there is no further agreement or guarantee for the GOJ to accept, or implement, any offer from CCA.

The public is simply seeking clarity.

Jamaica does need a new Parliament building and supporting edifices for our ministries and government offices. The current Duke Street building suffers from space constraints, health and safety concerns, and lack of accessibility for the disabled. I do support the question being asked by the public in general, and local professionals in particular, as to why the project is seemingly being pursued with such urgency, while ignoring public sentiment that transparency, best practices, and possibly even the Jamaican national psyche appear sacrificial.

 

Resolve site problem first

 

The fundamental decision regarding the siting of a new Parliament building must be resolved prior to anyone being in a position to design, cost or even build.

Several government-commissioned and independent studies and proposals for a new Parliament building have been done over the past 40 years. While some have been undertaken by professionals, many have been done by local and international architecture students as postgraduate degree projects and theses. The variety of the studies explore the several possible sites in the north, south, east and west of Heroes Park, on the perimeter of Heroes Circle, on the Kingston waterfront, and on King's House lands.

There is more than sufficient and compelling evidence not to build the new Parliament building in National Heroes Park. That a large green area in the middle of the city exists and potentially may exist for the near and distant future is an opportunity that many cities would pay, and do pay, handsomely for. The value-added benefits of orderly public space in the built and natural environments have been long established. The opportunities for social well-being that spaces of this scale play in an increasingly urbanised city is invaluable for residents and visitors alike.

Without doubt, the new Parliament building should be built on the perimeter of National Heroes Circle. Inside the park would remain open for public recreational and ceremonial use while allowing the continued build-out of ministerial and other government buildings on the perimeter. It could be spectacular.

The UDC and professionals representing the public's interests must work together on this national project. The UDC, as project manager, should organise general and focused charrettes harnessing the in-house and external expertise available. A charrette, as a participatory planning tool, would bring together all the technical stakeholders and professionals in a creative, results-driven forum. These charrettes would create the space and mechanism for stakeholder and public participation.

 

Public disclosure

 

A public presentation of the process, findings and site selection would form part of the inclusive process of public consultation, creating a better opportunity for Jamaicans to take ownership of the project.

Having determined the site, it would be incumbent on the UDC to establish the parameters and prepare a design competition, whether nationally, regionally or internationally. This well-established procurement method must be recognised as the only acceptable method to select the design for Jamaica's new Parliament building. This method is used internationally, especially in circumstances where the building is of national interest.

The selection of the most appropriate project should be done by a panel of academic, technical and stakeholder interests. A public presentation and exhibition of the projects and the process would again create a better opportunity for national buy-in and ownership.

The inclusion of the design of a symbol of our national identity is where a line has to be drawn. We have not hit rock bottom.

- Christopher Whyms-Stone is managing director of Cornerstone. Design Architects and deputy chairman of NEPA/TCPA/NRCA. He serves on the board of directors of the Tourism Product Development Company and is a former president of the Jamaican Institute of Architects. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and cstore@cornerstonecaribbean.com.