Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Editorial | Peter Bunting, Heroes Circle and Allman Town

Published:Thursday | August 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The nationalist fusillade Peter Bunting trained on Chinese companies in Jamaica last week reminded this newspaper of a proposed project involving one of Beijing's firms on which sensible intervention by the opposition MP and entrepreneur would be welcomed. It is the plan for the construction of a new parliament - and other public buildings - at National Heroes Park. If it happens, Mr Bunting is likely to spend a fair bit of time at that place, presuming that he stays in politics and retains the Central Manchester seat for the People's National Party.

The more than 50-acre park is an oval piece of land in Kingston, adjacent to which are a handful of government buildings and a number of decayed urban communities. A bit of it was hived off to host monuments to Jamaica's seven national heroes and other important figures. That portion is maintained with fair decency. The rest of it, like the surrounding communities, carries the hallmarks of urban blight - a scrubby dustbowl with entrances often strewn with garbage and a roughly asphalted portion, squatted on by the finance ministry for use as its public car park.

After years of see-sawing by Jamaican governments, the Holness administration decided to move ahead with the plan for the Parliament, and perhaps other buildings, at the northern portion of the park, which, Prime Minister Andrew Holness hopes, would be a "catalyst for the wider development of downtown Kingston".

 

NO CLARITY

 

But for all the talk, over many years, there is no clarity on what is to be done. In March, Mr Holness signed what was described as a non-binding consulting and design agreement with the Beijing firm, China Construction Company (CCC), but with nothing said about what precisely they will deliver - and when. Apparently, the Jamaican government will pay nothing for this phase of the project.

The Jamaica Institute of Architects, quite legitimately, argued that the design and construction of a national parliament should be subject to open competition, although we do not believe, which the institute seemed to imply, that such a competition should be limited to Jamaicans. For while Jamaican architects may have an advantage in interpreting national aspirations - as design competitions for public buildings in other countries often show - being born in a country doesn't necessarily translate to an ability to best encapsulate its vision and soul.

 

Opaque promise

 

In the face of the criticism, Mr Holness said that the opportunity for Jamaicans to participate in the design of the project was intended all along. But that, too, remains an opaque promise, especially in the absence of clarity on its scope, and funding - whether directly from the national coffers, with loans and/or gifts from China (as was the case with the new foreign ministry headquarters) or as public-private partnership between the government and CCC. The government should begin airing this issue.

Further, this newspaper does not believe that the Heroes Park project should be an end in itself. Nor should it be limited to public and/or commercial buildings. It is an opportunity, we believe, to tackle the decay in next-door communities such as Allman town and Kingston Gardens, that have grown hard, gritty and overcrowded. That would be part of the price for the state's intrusion on their major community asset - open recreational space.

A good thing about these communities is that they possess more than the basics, including roads and water and, in some cases, sewerage. Although run-down, the houses are often sound. It is feasible, and would make sense, to creatively use excess capital at the National Housing Trust to help underwrite such a project, employing, if required, the Local Improvements Act, to get around the resistance of owners. Peter Bunting, with his financial acumen, might help think through how this could be done.