Nagra Plunkett, Assignment Coordinator
The 16-year delay in the implementation of the Greater Montego Bay Redevelopment Company's (GMRC) plan is preventing the creation of hundreds of jobs and stopping a possible increased flow of funds into the parish, according to stakeholders.
The plan, which outlined structures to guide the expansion of the commercial areas of the parish, also includes ideas for zoning which would create a structure for the orderly development of some 23 informal communities.
"If we cannot do all of Montego Bay one time, let us do the market district as a pilot. This would include integrating the railway lands with the transport centre to form one big station in the Railway Lane, Lightbody Avenue area," suggested community activist Dave Allen, who is a director of the GMRC.
"This would regenerate the Charles Gordon market district and also reduce the stress on St James Street, Sam Sharpe Square and Williams Street."
Stakeholders argue that the parish council and central government would benefit from zoning, as this will allow for increased tax collection since all properties and their owners would be identified in the process.
"Right now, it's almost a free-for-all system apart from the primary developers, like say a hotel. But a lot of the regular people who are out there doing buildings and commercial activities are getting away with a lot of infringements, for which they ought to be brought to book," said Lloyd B. Smith, member of parliament for the St James Central constituency.
The GMRC is hinged on the relocation of residents from sections of Railway Gardens, which include Railway Lane, Barnett, Lane, Lightbody Avenue, Barracks Road and Hart Street.
"I don't want us to be burdened by the past, but where are we going today?" asked Allen.
"We need to move full speed ahead with the regeneration of the area into a mix-used district with commercial activities at the bottom and residential activities at the top. This will retain life in the city."
Reduced fiscal resources
As the citizens of St James await the new development order for which some $12 million was allocated from the National Housing Trust to revive the GMRC plan, Smith is determined to engage Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller on the matter.
With the country operating with reduced fiscal resources, he also suggested that some of the plans can get private-sector contribution as well as foreign direct investments.
"I do not believe that we should take all the people out of Montego Bay and living somewhere else, (but) the entire area needs to be cleared out so as to allow for new construction and the establishment of ownership because one of the problems down there is absentee landlords," Smith stated.
"People are literally living there illegally and in some instances they themselves don't even know who the landlord is.
"It's a major effort and I am hoping that somewhere along the line, when the development plan is again put on the table, we will begin to look at that area in terms of meaningful and structured development rather than the hotchpotch approach because this goes right across to Hart Street, (and) Barracks Road as well."
Allen maintained that the St James Parish Council - being the local planning authority - should lead the redevelopment process which will create more commercial space for entrepreneurs and revive the blighted areas of Montego Bay's inner city.