‘Historic’ clash - Custos, mayor square off over heritage sites in Falmouth
Trelawny Custos Paul Muschett and Falmouth Mayor Collen Gager are at daggers drawn over the heritage sites in the north-coast town, which has seen a significant boom in tourism and commercial activities over the last decade.
Under the Jamaica National Heritage Trust Act of 1985, a section of Falmouth, recognised as rich architectural and archaeological heritage, was declared as a national monument on September 5, 1996. At that time, the town had the largest collection of buildings of Georgian architecture in the Caribbean.
However, with the fast-paced development of the Trelawny capital in recent years, a number of buildings have either been knocked down or refurbished as the town changes its appearance.
Muschett, a farmer and businessman, has accused the Gager-led Trelawny Municipal Corporation of approving building plans that are destroying Falmouth’s heritage. The mayor, however, has distanced himself from the claims, saying that the state entity charged with ensuring the preservation of heritage sites has not been excluded from the process.
“The [Jamaica] National Heritage Trust has the supreme authority in determining how buildings are built, how expansions are done, and what form of repairs to the buildings are done,” Gager told The Gleaner.
Muschett, who is from the family of Muschetts that previously owned Vale Royal Estate and are also known for lands the family bequeathed to build Muschett High School in Wakefield, Trelawny, and own Holland House in the parish, fired back, placing the blame squarely in the lap of the mayor.
“The municipality has the final stamp of approval for building plans submitted,” he said.
Gager contends that the custos is travelling down a path which he finds unacceptable.
“He comes into my office and wants to instruct me on how I should operate in my decision-making. When he does not get his way, he writes to Governor General Sir Patrick Allen and Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie and complains to them,” the mayor disclosed, contending that the custos does not understand his role in the parish.
“We have Disaster Preparedness Committee to which he has been invited. He comes to the meeting and wants to instruct me on how the committee is to be constructed. In his opinion, no councillor should be a member of the committee. I had to refer to the laws by which the municipality is governed. This has not gone down well with him. In the meeting, he had a long discourse, instructing me about how the meeting should flow and what should or should not be on the agenda,” Gager told The Gleaner.
“The last time I checked, I believe that I found out that the role of custos is mainly ceremonial. I am not going to sit by and allow the custos, with all due respect to his position, to order me around,” a peeved Gager added.
Muschett has been complaining for a while about the destruction of the town’s buildings, which are one of the attractions being marketed by Royal Caribbean cruise shipping company. The last such occasion was at the installation ceremony of the Rotary Club of Falmouth, when he appealed to Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett, who was the guest speaker, to intervene.
Muschett believes the town’s national monument designation is under threat, with the municipality being a key facilitator.