Sat | Dec 14, 2019

Editorial | Port Royal’s déjà vu

Published:Tuesday | December 3, 2019 | 12:26 AM

The great and the good who descended on Port Royal last week, toting another package of promises for the town’s development, were perhaps lucky that, after three and a quarter centuries, the spirits of the buccaneers who once controlled the town may be now at rest. Or Henry Morgan’s former comrades might have willed another earthquake and tsunami that targeted the officials.

The current residents are too decent and polite to have done anything other than imbibe the plans with huge globs of scepticism. Dubiety, of course, is appropriate, for as Heather Pinnock, the general manager of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), conceded, her agency alone has, over the last 55 years, fashioned at least 10 development plans for the town. That’s at least one every five and a half years. We suspect there are more.

The efforts of the UDC probably don’t take into account the myriad of private initiatives, such as Robert Stephenson’s decades-old effort to develop the historic little fishing town into a bustling cruise ship port and tourist haunt, or the ill-advised project, already begun, by the QUANGO, the Port Authority of Jamaica, to build a floating pier to accommodate cruise liners.

Most plans for Port Royal, though, are still-born. Last week, however, the UDC’s Ms Pinnock promised the town a shiny new future with “lots of economic activities”.

“We intend for Port Royal to be safe, smart and secure,” she said. “A big part of that is to have the technology to support that.”

The town should, indeed, get the promised fibre-optic cable to enable fast Internet, and so on. Our expectation, however, is that, as in the past, these big projects will collide with the old constraint. They are too expensive to fund, so they stall, and people’s lives don’t get better.

That is why our advice to Ms Pinnock is that as she works on the big, shiny initiatives, she concomitantly focuses on a few small things that will make a great difference to Port Royal.

She should find a few carpenters and masons, get a few buckets of paint, insist that the solid waste people do their jobs, and mobilise the town’s residents to contribute sweat equity. And if they can be stirred, she should encourage, or shame, other critical stakeholders, including the area’s parliamentary representative, Phillip Paulwell, to be part of the effort.

CLEAN THE PLACE

We might also make note of the Port Royal Brotherhood, the body established by a 1952 law to which real estate assets in the town were ceded and mandated “to undertake and encourage the reconstruction and development of Port Royal”. But like the 17th-century buccaneers, the Brotherhood seems to be merely spectral.

The bottom line is that for all its history as an old British naval fort where a young Horatio Nelson was once stationed, Port Royal is an unkempt, gritty little town whose charm can be easily teased out, and sustained, by the regular collection of garbage, the trimming of verges and some clacking and swishing of paintbrushes. A clean and visually pleasing environment would quickly, and significantly, enhance the town’s tourism.

Like Nelson Dockyard at English Harbour in Antigua, Port Royal can become a major global attraction. That doesn’t require it having an expensive cruise pier and a billion-dollar hotel or other developments that threaten the area’s fragile ecosystem. Its historic buildings and the town’s history already exist. The process of building on them can be studied and measured.

Get the little things done, and done right, first. Like cleaning the place.