Editorial | Build the parliament at King’s House
Not only the Government, but also opponents of the idea, have gone silent since the unveiling of the winning design for the new parliament building, which Prime Minister Andrew Holness wants to build at National Heroes Park, or the old Race Course.
Silence, hopefully, doesn’t mean an absence of vigilance, or that a fait accompli will be slipped through during the quiet.
Should anyone have doubt, this newspaper esteems the five designs that made it to the final of the competition, for all were celebratory of Jamaica and captured the essence of our Independence and democracy that is represented by the national Parliament. However, Evan Williams’ Design Collaborative’s rendition was selected, with its grand circular structure that gestures to the National Stadium; it deepened the exploration, and captured with greater clarity the relationship among Jamaica’s democracy, independence and national aspirations.
But National Heroes Park is not the appropriate place to construct Mr Williams’ concept of Jamaica’s Parliament. That’s not because the design elements would be out of place there. They would be appropriate almost anywhere, with sufficient space for the full expression of the grandeur of the design. The issue is that Mr Holness’ planned encroachment on Heroes Park is fundamentally wrong.
The 50-acre park is surrounded by communities such as Allman Town, Kingston Gardens, Woodford Park, Fletcher’s Land, and Torrington Park. These areas, in large measure, reek of urban rot. But while a little shy of 40 per cent of the land is home to the shrines of national heroes and a bit is despoiled by the finance ministry as a car park, the communities have the park as a place of recreation. It is one of the few significant green spaces left in the capital.
The prime minister’s idea, however, initially broached by a Chinese company, is for the comprehensive redevelopment of the area, including extending the sections directly around the circular park as a campus of government ministries and agencies. The parliament building inside the park would clearly tie into the idea.
The Government hasn’t yet shared its specific ideas for the redevelopment of the surrounding communities. We suppose these are still in the design stages. It is clear, though, that having appropriated a chunk of the land for the parliament building, neither Allman Town nor any of the area communities will have a recreational area of remotely the size available at Heroes Park. Indeed, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) had at one time floated the idea of 23 separate mini community parks, in a kind of Bantustanisation of recreation.
We feel that while the redevelopment of Heroes Circle and its adjacent communities should proceed, with the appropriate scope and dimension, it should be without the parliament building.
Mr Evans’ design should be set down at the King’s House lands, where there are already the governor general’s residence and the Office of the Prime Minister.
In today’s world of global and domestic terrorism, the security of important symbols of the State, such as the houses of Parliament, the Office of the Prime Minister and the seat of the governor general, is paramount. This fact would further circumscribe the use of Heroes Park as a recreation area if the parliament house was built there.
It would be easier, however, to plan and maintain security for the legislature as well as the heads of Government and State if their activities were concentrated in one area, the King’s House lands, which is impatient of appropriate development.
Heroes Park should be developed to be what it has always been, a place of recreation. The surrounding communities, and all Jamaica, would be thankful.