Sun | Mar 24, 2019

‘No more holdouts’ - NWA boss says $1.6 billion spent on Constant Spring, Hagley Park land acquisitions

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2019 | 12:04 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Lionel Rookwood/Photographer These properties have been acquired by the Government. The buildings will be demolished as part of the Constant Spring Road expansion project.
Gladstone Taylor/Multimedia Photo Editor National Water Commission employee Bobby Lewin trying to reconnect the nearby Tile City to a main on Constant Spring Road on Friday, February 15. Tile City, like many other businesses, has experienced water disruptions because of the ongoing roadworks project.
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Triumphal in his declaration that all resistance to the Government’s expansive road-widening projects in the Corporate Area has folded, works czar E.G. Hunter is bullish that property values will surge so high as to justify the $1.6-billion spend on land acquisitions.

Works along Hagley Park Road transitioning into Three Miles, as well as Constant Spring Road, will transform the landscape of the city of Greater Kingston, increasing travel times and traffic flows and significantly upgrading sewerage and water-supply capacity. Constant Spring and Three Miles are part of a trinity of Legacy Projects – including the multilane Mandela Highway – undertaken by the Holness administration and scheduled for completion by June this year.

According to Hunter, chief executive officer of the National Works Agency (NWA), the Government’s implementation arm, the State has paid out approximately $893 million to landowners on Hagley Park Road and $741 million on Constant Spring Road. The widening of both corridors – to four lanes – has encroached on the frontage of mainly commercial operations. Excavation and pipe-laying have, for months, caused traffic snarls and water-supply shortages, dislocated businesses, and slashed revenue.

But Hunter insisted that, ultimately, the rewards will be worth the pain.

“It is an unassailable fact that the value of the properties that remain would have escalated significantly, simply by the works we are doing. There is a significant capital gain that will flow to the landowners once these works are completed,” said the NWA boss.

“These are significant amount of monies that have been paid out, and while there have been a few glitches in the acquisition process, it’s an understanding we expected and we have moved beyond that stage now,” he said.

Hunter told The Sunday Gleaner that while the undertaking has been tedious, none of the landowners took the Government to court, to which he credits the purchasing strategy and protocol of the NWA and the National Land Agency.

Settled

“We do not have a situation where landowners have taken the Government to court over payouts, and add to that, there are no further holdouts. Persons who would have demanded a higher price for their land have settled.

“The last piece of land that we needed to acquire was the Constant Spring Market premises, and we have since acquired that. It’s a done deal!” Hunter told The Sunday Gleaner. “We have had only a few compulsory acquisitions, about two per cent of the 120 premises along the Constant Spring Road corridor and above 90 on Hagley Park Road. It shows that we have met with little resistance in acquiring these lands.”

The appropriation of the market has been a bone of confrontation for vendors, whose lawyer, Bert Samuels, QC, has sought to secure compensation for them. But there had been little word that the Manor Park acquisition extends beyond the market to a cluster of shops and a service station, right up to the roundabout. Hunter said that stretch of buildings would have to be demolished to facilitate the installation of much-needed sewer mains and other infrastructure.

“It’s not just a road-widening exercise. In fact, I think the Government undersold its efforts by labelling it the road-widening project,” quipped Hunter. “I must admit that two years into the programme, we were approaching it strictly as road widening, but then based on some common-sense things, we had to incorporate some additional pieces into the undertaking.”

MAJOR OVERHAUL

He said that it was crucial for the project to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of the National Water Commission’s (NWC) infrastructure in that area, which includes, among other things, replacing old water mains from Manor Park in the northeast to Duhaney Park in western St Andrew.

“People should understand that unless you have central sewers, the allowable density (the number of people occupying a space) is very restricted, but with the installation of sewage mains, you can now have more intensive development along the corridor,” he said.

The NWA honcho also pointed out that the works accommodated the expansion of telecommunications infrastructure along both Constant Spring and Hagley Park roads. The excavations have caused extensive damage to telecommunications, causing thousands of customers to lose landline and Internet services.

“This newly built-out infrastructure should last approximately 40 years; that’s what we are designing it for,” said Hunter. “We have an obligation to secure sufficient lands immediate to the development to allow for this build-out,” Hunter said.

One business operator, however, was upset that he was given little time to relocate his operations. According to Albert, whose family wholesale has been operational for 25 years, he will be forced to shutter its doors on warnings from the NWA.

“The Government is not being reasonable. I don’t even know if my landlord accepted the offer,” said Albert, who declined to disclose his full name. “The last I checked, she hadn’t, but even when we do leave here, the money given to compensate us may not be enough to start over elsewhere.”

The wholesaler said that he was told that the land was needed for “investment and further development”, but was quick to note his displeasure at having to move.

“The fact is that no matter your disagreement, you cannot argue with the Government. They want your land, they can come and take it. All they need to do is to pay you something,” the Chinese-Jamaican said.

His wholesale is among just a handful of businesses left open for business along that stretch, including a RUBiS petrol station, which was confirmed as “gone” by the manager.

The three Legacy Projects are being executed by China Harbour Engineering Company at a cost of US$164 million (J$20 billion).

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com