Government to upgrade public beaches
The Government says that it has designated $187 million towards the upgrade of eight public beaches islandwide, but members of the public have raised concerns about the locations slated to be spruced up.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett - in an attempt to address long-standing disputes between residents and hoteliers who have privatised large stretches of beach in Montego Bay, St James, and its environs - said the western parishes are among the prime candidates for the upgrades.
"As a government, we are very concerned about it and we are very conscious about it. I couldn't remain MP if my people didn't have access to public beaches," stressed Bartlett, who is the member of parliament for the St James East Central constituency.
"We have $187 million in the budget this year to build up eight beaches across the island to ensure that there is access by local people to public beaches in good condition," he said.
"If you go to Burwood in Trelawny you will see a nicely built-up beach. We are doing Winifred Beach in Portland. We are going to be doing the beach in Success, which is right where Sea Castles is so that the people of Barry Town have access," he added.
"We have spent over $50 million improving the Negril Beach park to ensure that it is available. At the Dump-up Beach we are going to be spending over $500 million over the next few years, along with the UDC (Urban Development Commission) to create a world-class beach park for the people of Montego Bay," he said.
Former president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and attorney-at-law Nathan Robb, last week was slow in welcoming Bartlett's reassurance.
"There are no public beaches in Montego Bay. That leaves the residents swimming in some marginal areas that are unsafe and environmentally unsound," said Robb, citing the popular Dump-up Beach as one such unsanitary area in Montego Bay.
"Dump-up Beach is immediately proximate to the gully. They don't have anywhere else to swim. Even though Doctor's Cave [beach] is open to the public, the ordinary person can't afford to go there. It doesn't make sense financially," said Robb, citing an admission of $600 for adults and $300 for children.
"I'm not opposed to fixing up the beaches. I'm saying yes. But let us not go spending money on beaches that are marginal. It is not fair to spend millions of dollars to placate, to show that you're doing something when the best beaches are reserved for the tourists," he said.
PUBLIC BEACHES BELOW PAR
Robb's concerns were shared recently by Diana McCaulay, outgoing CEO and founder of the Jamaica Environment Trust, who described the quality of public beaches islandwide as below par.
"They are mostly poor. The tourist beaches are better managed, so they tend to be better. Negril, however, would be an exception, with Long Beach, which everyone walks along. The problem is, how does one get to the beaches?" she said.
"If you want to provide access to beaches, you have to provide paths or easements between private land so people can get on to the beach," she said, noting that public beaches across Jamaica are mostly overgrown, littered with garbage and have poor sanitation.
According to the National Environment and Planning Agency, which has responsibility for the island's beaches, there are 85 beaches used for public bathing, 12 of which are used as commercial recreation beaches. Fifty-eight beaches are associated with the hotels, while 121 were designated for fishing purposes.
"Twelve of the 85 public bathing beaches meet the minimum acceptable safety standards. The remainder are either in a state of disrepair or have no facilities on site. Squatting is a major problem," reads NEPA's website.