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China Surprise - Land plans prepared faster than Gov't expected

Published:Saturday | May 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Dr Omar Davies

Despite an online petition for the Jamaican Government not to give the Roaring River lands in St Ann to the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), Dr Omar Davies, the transport, works and housing minister, said transferring the lands to the Chinese would be a significant boost to economic activity on the island.

"One of the reasons we are attracted to the 150 acres, which we are now discussing, is that we are now speaking about another US$500 million of investment, which will flow immediately in terms of 2,400 hotel rooms. That is, in a sense, investment that Minister McNeill never envisioned," Davies said.

While not naming the 150-acre property as Roaring River, Davies said that the Government was considering a request for lands situated west of Ocho Rios in St Ann, near to Drax Hall, where the north-south link of Highway 2000 will end.

The Chinese, under a concession agreement with the Government, are entitled to 1,200 acres of lands. Davies explained that the land aspect of the deal became necessary as all feasibility studies showed that the developers would not be able to recoup their investment from the building of the road, which will stretch from Linstead in St Catherine to St Ann.

The concession agreement, which gives CHEC the right to build, own, and operate the road for 50 years, allows the Government to recoup the money spent on the highway over the life of the agreement.

set sights on Roaring River

Last October, Ivan Anderson, managing director of the National Road Operating and Construction Company (NROCC), said in Parliament that the Chinese had set their sights on getting the Roaring River lands as part of an agreement with the Jamaican Government to construct the north-south link of Highway 2000.

"We have got one proposal to look at some lands for development, which are the UDC (Urban Development Corporation) lands adjacent to Dunn's River ... . It is called Roaring River. They have put together a development plan for those lands, which involves the lands south of the North Coast Highway and also the land on the northern side of the highway," Anderson said.

Davies said that the Government had been "taken by surprise at the speed at which CHEC has moved" in putting forward plans for the lands, noting that "this is supposed to happen when they are completed".

CHEC has indicated that it intends to build three hotels on the north coast with a capacity of 2,400 rooms, as well as 600 housing solutions.

"I will be going to Cabinet to change the concession agreement to require them to complete the development faster than originally (planned) because we didn't expect them to move with such alacrity," Davies said.

The minister said that while CHEC is entitled to 1,200 acres, the lands had not yet been identified. He stressed that the Chinese would not get lands simply because they say they want it.

"We have a lot of mined-out lands that would be good for housing construction. It is not a unilateral demand, which has to be met," he said.