Clifton Yap | Heroes Park not political, Mr PM
It was reported on Thursday, August 16, 2018, that the PM had dismissed as "political argument" the concerns raised at the recent town hall meeting organised by the RJRGLEANER Communications Group, to discuss the Government's proposals to develop Heroes Park and its surroundings (referred to as the Oval Zone project) and that the meeting had been "hijacked for political reasons".
This response is quite unfortunate, as it seems to be dismissive of the many valid concerns expressed by residents from within the directly affected communities, as well as from civil-society stakeholders in general.
Many of these same concerns had also been previously raised by architects and planners, other construction industry professionals, and many in civil society since March 2017, when the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China Construction America South America Division (CCASA) was announced for the Oval Zone project and downtown Kingston, and again more recently after the one-year term of the MOU had expired. So the public concerns are not new. What is new is the attempt to dismiss the concerns raised as "political argument", rather than try to address them.
In his town hall rebuttal, the PM also made statements that would indicate that he must have been misinformed when he said that "while we were developing the project internally, we were informing the public" and that this "created gaps in information which some people exploited".
The fact is that everything about the master plan has been treated as a closely guarded secret by the GOJ/UDC (Urban Development Corporation) since before the MOU, and more than one year later, after the term of the MOU had expired in March 2018, not a single public consultation had been held on any aspect of it.
The only reason that this plan was being discussed in the public domain was because the College of Fellows of the Jamaican Institute of Architects (COF-JIA) inadvertently came across a master plan for the project and released it publicly.
The PM also stated that "it was never the Government's intention to just go in, bulldoze, dislocate, and remove people from their homes" and that "things required a process, and the administration was not yet at that stage".
If the process is "not yet at that stage", one would have to question why the GOJ is already pursuing land acquisition in Allman Town and other communities. One would also have to question why the GOJ and UDC have already launched a design competition for the construction of the proposed Parliament building complex to be sited in the middle of Heroes Park, despite the many public concerns raised.
As to assurances regarding "bulldozing" and "dislocation", ask the business people and residents along Constant Spring Road as to what consultation process was followed before the NWA and their contractor, China Harbour, started to bulldoze boundary fences and walls, and destroy major irreplaceable trees? Ask the vendors what consultation occurred before a decision was taken to demolish the market and not replace one in the area?
Further, what public consultations did the GOJ have with its citizens, or even with NEPA, before the NWA decided that the urban streets of Kingston must be transformed into highways, with barrier walls in the medians to ostensibly prevent "high-speed collisions", as was done at Barbican Square, and is being done along Constant Spring Road and elsewhere!
From the foregoing examples, the PM should recognise that it is not a matter of people not wanting 'development' around Heroes Park. The public would like to understand issues such as the rationale and economic feasibility of the plans for widespread demolishing of existing Government buildings and entire communities to construct approximately 17 new ministry buildings and very costly high-rise residential and commercial complexes. They also want to understand the impact on their lives and livelihood.
This is not a political matter.