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Businesses fume as traffic stifles Falmouth

Published:Friday | August 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

Residents and business interests in Trelawny's main town are demanding a revision of the restrictions on vehicular traffic that came into being with the new Falmouth Pier. According to them, businesses are haemorraging, because of a downturn in patronage, which has failed to live up to the benefits promised by the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ).

"The concept, as it is now, has not served us well, and the pedestrianisation has adversely impacted the business class of the town," Dennis Meadows, former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate for North Trelawny, said during the monthly Mayor's Forum at the town hall recently.

"It is clearly not working, and I think that we should look seriously at pedestrianising the town only on ship days rather than daily, and I believe that will work well. We should seek to strike a balance in terms of the interest of tourism and the interest of the general citizenry," Meadows added.

Sonia Shirley, a gas station operator in Falmouth, who operates an approximately 50-year-old family business in the parish capital, says her bottom line has been wiped out by about 50 per cent since vehicular traffic was prohibited from the town square.

"Falmouth became attractive because of the landscape and the architecture; now we are trying to change. Instead of improving on what we have, I am afraid we might lose it all," Shirley said.

"It is not all about tourism. Tourism is an important part of our economic activities within the town, but I do believe that there are other things that need to coexist with tourism, and I am afraid that we are losing as we go into the development process."

The Falmouth Pier, which was developed by the PAJ in partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruise Limited (RCCL), opened for business in 2011. It boasts modern facilities and allows for the docking of the world's largest cruise ships. It also has the capacity to handle at least two mega ships concurrently.

The PAJ reportedly invested an estimated US$167 million in the development of the pier, with RCCL putting in US$102 million. The development came with a promise that the historic Georgian town would see some eight million cruise-ship passengers within 10 years.

On the eve of the official opening of the pier, then Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett projected that the Falmouth cruise-ship pier would not only boost the town's economy but would also spur the development of the surrounding communities.

Efforts to contact William Tatham, the PAJ vice-president of cruise shipping and marina operations, for a comment on the concerns being raised by the residents and business sector in Falmouth proved futile.

Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill announced in Parliament in May that improvements are to be made in Falmouth. He said craft vendors and other business people in Falmouth would see a $585-million development project at the Hampden Wharf in the parish that would feature restaurants, an entertainment centre, and shops that would enable proprietors to get business from cruise-ship visitors.