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Development not destruction - Heritage Trust denies that it is blocking rebirth of Port Royal

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall
Russian visitors tour Port Royal.
One of the many special heritage sites in Port Royal.

The Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) has dismissed claims that it has been the stumbling block in a proposed US$500-million development of the historic Port Royal into an international tourism hot spot.

Obviously stung by the allegations, executive director of the Trust, Dorrick Gray, told The Sunday Gleaner that there is no truth to those claims.

He argued that rather than being a stumbling block over the past 25 years that the development has been proposed, the JNHT has been successfully protecting a valuable asset of the Jamaican people.

"We re-emphasise our support for the development of a

sustainable heritage tourism product in Port Royal and agree that a cruise shipping pier would be an added value, but we remain guided by our mandate to preserve, protect and promote our heritage sites for all Jamaicans to enjoy," said Gray.


New rules


Last week, minority shareholders in the Port Royal Development Company, led by Robert Stephens, charged that the development, which could earn Jamaica US$230 million annually, is being stymied by the JNHT, with its changing rules.

"Every time they have come up with new rules, and the latest rule is that they are not allowing a cruise ship pier and they are not allowing any new buildings in Port Royal," bemoaned Stephens.

But Gray said: "The JNHT welcomes development of any kind in the historical town, but believes that all tourism stakeholders should share responsibility for the conservation of our cultural and natural heritage of 'Outstanding Universal Value' and for sustainable development through appropriate tourism management."

He added that Port Royal is considered an area of Outstanding Universal value due to the deadly earthquake of 1692 which caused it to be recognised as one of the most significant catastrophic heritage sites in the Western Hemisphere.

"The 13 acres of land which went underwater, famously known as the 'Sunken City', created an almost perfect preservation of material culture. UNESCO has recognised the value of the city and it is against that background that we are currently submitting the Nomination Dossier for Port Royal to receive World Heritage status.

"It is of utmost importance that we put regulations in place to preserve the structural integrity of the town and its significant monuments," added Gray.

He argued that the main sticking point with the Port Royal Development Company is where the cruise ships would dock.

"We suggested the old wharf next to Morgan's Harbour but they (Port Royal Development Company) said this was too far," charged Gray, as he alleged that the proposal from Stephens and his team would site a cruise ship pier just above the Sunken City, and that is unacceptable.

"Cruise shipping in Port Royal is a welcomed development to stimulate the economic growth for the town but the fundamental issue is to find an appropriate location that would not have a negative impact on the heritage resources of the town, specifically the Sunken City that is located at the Chocolato Hole."

According to Gray, archaeological remains in the Sunken City have been found to still be in pristine condition, and the docking of ships at that area would have negative repercussions on the infrastructure of buildings located there.

"We have started discussions since last year for the creation of a floating pier in the Colding Wharf area of Port Royal and have engaged other stakeholders to ensure that these plans are actualised," said Gray, as he added this could be operational by next year.


No new-building ban


Gray rejected Stephens' claim that the JNHT has said it will not allow new buildings to be constructed in the town.

"But if we are talking about a historic town ... what we want to do is to build a town based on its historical background but the town that would fit into the overall thing that is Jamaica. So there are buildings that you can build like those buildings but use modern material," said Gray.

"We, since last year ... have had a series of discussions at the board level as to what to do to move Port Royal forward, and we have looked at all these plans over the many years and we have selected the way we want Port Royal to go forward.

"The only problem we had was how would the visitors come in, and we saw this option from the Port Authority of Jamaica which said we don't have to build anything and destroy the city, we can build a floating pier, and we are exploring that option now," Gray emphasised.