Juliet Holness, the member of parliament for St Andrew East Rural, has reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to compensating residents affected by the proposed Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project, but said squatters in her constituency will be taken care of first.
Scores of residents could be pushed off properties they have called home for years, following the planned widening of the main road which leads to St Thomas as part of the project.
This has caused panic for homeowners and squatters from Bull Bay and St Thomas alike – especially among those who do not hold titles for the lands which have been occupied by their families for decades.
“If you have lived here for 30, 40, 50 years and you have no ownership for the land and realise the Government is coming in and they are going to do the development, you must be terrified,” said Holness last Thursday.
“You are saying, ‘where am I going to go?’ We want persons to know that in improving the development we are mindful that we look out for those who have settled for a long time,” she said, noting that squatters will be compensated only for the homes they have erected on the lands.
They cannot be compensated for lands without proof of landownership, she explained, adding that the process will be more complicated for persons who own the land their homes were built on as they will have to be compensated for both.
“The Government will have to compensate the person who may be squatting or renting for the property if it is theirs, and then they will actually compensate the persons for the land.
“Somebody who owns house and land is final because they will be compensated in full … you have to make the effort to ensure that you properly compensate people who own their land,” she continued, adding that she was still awaiting detailed maps of the proposed roadworks to see what areas will be affected. Only then can talks of relocation commence, she said.
The matter is not only important for her constituents, but also for her place as member of parliament.
“It will impact me significantly because a lot of the persons who live along this area are on the political side of the divide that supports me,” she explained, adding that the highway will provide an opportunity for business development and Airbnb ventures.
“For those who own their properties, I have encouraged them that if the government is in a position that when they’ve come and sat down with you to explain why a piece of your property has to go, you can still have your discussions but you understand that for the greater good of all … this is the best alternative,” she explained.
Holness’ husband, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, broke ground for the commencement of the highway in November last year.
The initiative will entail the rehabilitation of roughly 110 kilometres of roadway between Harbour View in St Andrew and Port Antonio in Portland, and will also encompass a 26-kilometre road from Morant Bay to Cedar Valley in St Thomas.
Since the announcement several years ago, residents have been living on edge as they clamour for more conversation about their fate.
“They said those who have titles will get compensated and those who don’t have must try and get titles. But to get the title you have to survey the land and I don’t have that type of money,” Pauline, a resident of 10 Miles, told The Sunday Gleaner last year.