People's Report: How Cornwall Beach got divested
The article published in The Gleaner on June 19, 2015 under the title 'Don't take Cornwall Beach from locals' has sparked much interest and awareness throughout Montego Bay and other parts of Jamaica.
It was followed by a report in The Gleaner on June 24, 2015 ('Decameron eyeing hotel expansion after gaining access to Cornwall Beach'). The million-dollar question is how and under what circumstance has Decameron "gained (legal) access to Cornwall Beach" by virtue of which it now seeks to implement policies and practices that will exclude locals and visitors who are not their guests from accessing Cornwall Beach.
The chronological outline on the Cornwall Beach saga is as follows:
- Cornwall Beach is a property located on Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay, St James. It consists of a beach property (referred to as Lot 1) and the Tourism Product Development Company regional office with parking area (referred to as Lot 2). Lots 1 and 2 are owned by the St James Parish Council.
- Up to 2006, lots 1 and 2 were subject to a lease to the TPDCo.
- The TPDCo surrendered its interest in Lot 1 and same reverted to the St James Parish Council by mutual agreement, as the TPDCo was unable/unwilling to operate the beach.
- The TPDCo continued its lease arrangement of Lot 2 until May 30, 2014 when it surrendered its interest and said lot reverted to the St James Parish Council.
- By lease dated March 1, 2006, the St James Parish Council leased Lot 1 to Waterfront Investments Limited to operate the facility, inter alia, as a public bathing beach. Mayor Noel Donaldson and Secretary/ Manager Ian Reid signed on behalf of the council.
- By a document dated April 5, 2014, headed 'Addendum 2', the St James Parish Council amended the lease dated March 1, 2006, increasing the term of the lease by 30 years beyond its original expiration date of February 28, 2021. It also amended the March 1, 2006 lease omitting the use as a public bathing beach. This 'Addendum 2' is made between the St James Parish Council and Waterfront Investments Limited. Mayor Glendon Harris and Secretary/Manager Gerald Lee, signed on behalf of the council.
- A search of the minutes does not reveal where the amendment to omit public bathing beach provision was discussed and approved.
- By lease dated November 1, 2014, Lot 2 was purportedly leased to Waterfront Investments Limited by the St James Parish Council. Mayor Harris and Secretary/Manager Gerald Lee signed on behalf of the council.
- There is a provision in the lease of March 1, 2006 (clause 6(3)) and that of November 1, 2014 (clause 6 (3)) that reads as follows:
"The lessor (St James Parish Council) may permit the lessee (Waterfront Investments Limited) to sublease, assign, or part with or share possession of the leased premises or any part thereof, provided that the lessor shall first seek and obtain the written consent of the lessor."
- Neither of the lease agreements nor the Addendum 2 makes any reference to Decameron All-Inclusive Hotels and Resorts as being a party or signatory.
- The minutes of the council do not indicate that written approval to sublease, assign, or share possession with Decameron or any third party has been given by the St James Parish Council.
- Since December 2014, Decameron, by its own admission, has stated that it has taken over the Cornwall Beach property. Your reporter makes reference to one such admission on the Decameron website. The apparent activity and comments of Decameron seem to exclude public access of locals and all others who are not guests of the all-inclusive hotel. The website reads:
"NEW BEACH IN JAMAICA: CORNWALL BEACH
Our hotel chain continues to two with the recent acquisition at 'Cornwall Beach', located next to the Royal Decameron Montego Beach in the Island of Jamaica."
"This acquisition represents one more benefit among many in which we work every day so that OUR tourists may enjoy new options for their entertainment and relaxation."
- The council has not made nor approved in an open, transparent, and legally appropriate manner the lease of its property to Decameron or any third party. Accordingly, there is nothing that the relevant minister or Cabinet can approve. See Section 112 of the Parish Councils Act. This is a specific response to your reporter's comment in The Gleaner article when reference is made to Ministry Paper No 41.
- Because of the action of Decameron and Waterfront Investments Limited, which seems to be tacitly accommodated by the mayor, the minority caucus has moved a resolution at the general meeting of council. The resolution and questions were tabled in April 2015 on the issues that arise from this situation. While answers have been supplied by the secretary/manager, some of which have been evasive or plainly unsatisfactory, the debate on the resolution has been deferred on several occasions, including June 2015, at the request of the PNP majority on the basis that they need time to research and obtain information on the issues.
- Because of the evasive and unsatisfactory answers to the tabled questions, it is expected that the contractor general will inquire into the issues under his authority in the Contractor General Act.
- The minority caucus remains concerned, as this action being unfolded lacks clarity, transparency, and will exclude locals and visitors from a quality beach in Montego Bay. It runs contrary to the Town and Country Planning (St James Parish) Development Order 1978, amended in 1982.
Councillor, Flanker Division