Angelo Laurence, Gleaner Writer
MANDEVILLE, Manchester:WITH THE 200th anniversary of the birth of Manchester on the horizon, the Manchester Parish Council has stepped up its drive to implement several development projects in conjunction with a number of funding agencies and private-sector groups.
Slated for development are several of the parish's historic sites and economic hubs such as Alligator Pond, the region's main fishing port on the border of St Elizabeth, as well as Guts River, at the foot of the protected Canoe Valley, and the home site of the island's only manatees.
Development work has already started on the old home and birthplace of National Hero Norman W. Manley in Roxborough, five miles outside of Mandeville. This is partially funded by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), which has already handed over more than $1 million of its $7-million commitment to the project.
The Cecil Charlton Park, also known as the Mandeville Park, which was named after the late former mayor of Mandeville, is also undergoing a multimillion-dollar reconstruction as part of the parish's development thrust, which is to be carried out over the next five to 10 years.
The park is being reconstructed in three phases. Phase one, which includes new fencing, lighting, and beautification, has been completed and is now the home of a bust of Norman Washington Manley.
With nothing of note coming out of the US$4 million south coast development study done by the United Kingdom-based Halcrow Consultants in the late 1990s, support for this initiative by the Manchester Parish Council from residents and the business sector, including the majority of members of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce who spoke with The Gleaner, is at fever pitch.
The drive is also being assisted by the South Coast Resort Board, headed by publisher Anthony Freckleton, who was instrumental in getting the TEF to give its support to the rehabilitation of Manley's birthplace.
With the closure of the region's two bauxite companies, Alpart and Windalco, followed by the restrictive spending regime instituted under the International Monetary Fund agreement with central government, unemployment has been the order of the day, while economic growth has been at a standstill.
However, in recent months, the Brenda Ramsay-led Manchester Parish Council (MPC) has been reaching out to the private sector and other stakeholders and well-wishers to invest and do business in the parish.
Councillor for the Mandeville division, Jones Oliphant, told Rural Xpress that he welcomed the approach of the MPC to develop the parish and, by extension, create jobs and long-term development. The MPC's business friendly approach is resulting in numerous new businesses opening and in building construction taking place.
For secretary manager of the parish council, Christopher Powell, the restoration and development of the various sites such as the historic Guts River in the southern part of the parish will enhance tourism traffic. Once a bustling fishing and recreation beach for families as well as a holiday venue, the facility was damaged by Hurricane Ivan, which lashed the island in 2004.
The once swanky Luana Centre, located between Alligator Pond and Guts River, which entertained prime ministers and others of the bauxite hierarchy in years gone by and which is now vandalised and abandoned, is also slated to be rehabilitated under the programme.
The parish council is actively hosting a number of consultative meetings across the parish with residents, business communities, and other stakeholders to expose them to the development plans.
"This is our parish where we live, work, and raise our families, so we cannot afford to sit and throw up our hands waiting for others to do what we need to do," said Ramsay.