Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Orchard Beach Park - development hits a snag

Published:Saturday | February 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Claudia Gardner, Assignment Coordinator

WESTERN BUREAU:

President of the Hanover Parish Development Committee, Cleveland Wright, is lamenting what he says are protracted delays in the proposed development of the Orchard Bathing Beach in Hopewell, Hanover, as an official income-generating recreational park.

According to Wright, the beach and five acres of adjacent lands, through the Prescriptive Rights Act, was granted to the community of Hopewell in the 1980s. The community has been lobbying since the 1980s to develop and manage the park, and to undertake community-based entrepreneurial activities there.

However, he said presently the community is facing challenges as the requisite property transfer documents have still not been handed over to the Hanover Parish Council, after approximately two decades.

"In the early 1950s the fishermen of Hopewell formed a cooperative and began to lobby for a fisherman's beach and a bathing beach to accommodate the community. There has been a long struggle by the people in the community for ownership of Orchard property for the beach to be used by the locals," Wright told Western Focus earlier this week.

Formal Efforts

Wright said in the 1970s, the community, through the fishermen's cooperative at the time, had started efforts to formally enable the Hanover Parish Council to obtain the property on behalf of the community. He said the matter was further pursued after he was elected in 1986 as councillor for the Hopewell Division.

"I got in touch with one Mr Taylor, who headed an environmental organisation at the time, and he guided and informed me about the prescriptive rights of the citizens to have access to the bathing and fisherman's beach. He helped me to draft letters to the NRCA and other organisations for the people of Hopewell to have prescriptive rights to the beach, because they had been using the beach over the last 80 years," Wright explained.

"The developer, who became owner of the property, put up a defence of not wanting the citizens to have the beach, because he wanted it for a major hotel development. So I had to take him to court on behalf of the citizens of Hopewell to have the place declared on behalf of the community to occupy. The courts gave the people prescriptive rights to access and utilise the beach. The parish council was the body that led the litigation in the local courts - the Hanover Parish Council and the lawyers in Kingston acted on behalf of the people through the parish council," he said.

He added: "We are seeking now early resolution to the matter because we would like to proceed with the development of the area so as to ease the unemployment and the stress of not having places to socialise among the young people. Orchard is the only major beach in eastern Hanover, so there is no other beach. All the three other beaches are occupied by hotels, so we want this to be occupied by citizens. We want to have it developed for us as community people and also that tourists can come in the community and enjoy a nice cultural experience."

When Western Focus contacted Councillor of the Sandy Bay Division and former chairman of the Hanover Parish Council, Lloyd Hill, who was the council member with the most experience regarding the matter, he said there had been hiccups over the years, but that he believed the matter was close to a resolution.

"There was some controversy involved over the years, with the Hopewell people saying that sections of the beach were given to the fishermen and so on. Presently, we are seeking to establish the area for which the council would have authority so that we can have some development. We are sorting that out with the developer who owns the adjoining lands. I think he has to do some signing over because some sections of it were expressed on his title. That is what the secretary/manager is initiating now," Hill said.

Proof Of Ownership

"The community's contention is that a section of the land was given to the community by the owner of the land. I am not sure by whom, but somehow that portion of land is now part of the land which we are seeking to regularise as to what is owned by the developer and what is owned by the council," he added. "Because, in order for us to attract funding for development, proof of ownership is going to be critical and so we want to ensure that we formalise the section that we think is ours. We realise that we need to establish ownership in order to move forward," he added.

During his 2014-2015 sectoral presentation in Parliament, Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill had announced a new public beach development initiative, which was to be implemented in collaboration with other state tourism and environmental agencies.

"This is to ensure that the Jamaican people are able to enjoy their patrimony through access to our beaches. It is an imperative that suitable quality space for recreation must be made available for Jamaicans ... at least one beach in every parish will be transformed to make quality recreational spaces available to the public - residents and visitors alike. They will operate at the best international standards," the minister had said.