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New City Review - Holness orders study on Bernard Lodge buildout; backs housing in Kingston, MoBay, Mandeville

Published:Thursday | April 25, 2019 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
A section of Bernard Lodge in St Catherine.
A section of Bernard Lodge in St Catherine.
Bernard Lodge factory and farms.

Public outcry about costs of the proposed Bernard Lodge city in St Catherine, as well as travel concerns and potential environmental fallout related to urban sprawl beyond the margins of Kingston, has caused Prime Minister Andrew Holness to order a comprehensive review of the project.

In an apparent sign that he might be rethinking his ambitious buildout of Jamaica’s third city, Holness expressed reservations that the “sprawling nature of housing development” may inflate the construction costs of homes and add expensive and long travel times, making such residences unaffordable for most citizens. Kingston, Montego Bay, and Mandeville are better bets, the prime minister emphasised.

Holness made the disclosure yesterday while delivering the keynote address at the groundbreaking ceremony for 1,200 detached and duplex two-bedroom units at Silver Sun Estate on a section of the Innswood sugar estate, also in St Catherine.

“The problem with that is that the farther you go from the centre of established development, your capital costs for service delivery and maintenance increase,” the prime minister said. “This is a perfect example. In coming here, you see it – that there will have to be significant capital costs in the development of roads and in bringing infrastructure here.”

The prospective Bernard Lodge city, spanning about 4,600 acres and set to accommodate around 17,000 houses and supporting infrastructure built on prime arable land, will take an estimated 18 years to be built and will be the first city in Jamaica to be rolled out from scratch in centuries. It will also require the reallocation of water currently routed to the National Irrigation Commission for farmlands.

Receptive to debate

Holness revealed yesterday that he was receptive to the debate about finding the right balance in facilitating housing development, and agriculture while addressing environmental concerns.

“It is something that I am very sensitive to, and it is never easy, but the nation must never lose sight of the ultimate goal, and the ultimate goal is to provide shelter in an orderly way and in a sustainable way. So I’ll say more on the Bernard Lodge issue, [but] I requested a full brief. Since I’ve launched the programme, it has advanced, so I want to see where they are with it because public concerns need to be addressed,” he said.

Holness has also called for a regeneration of houses in town centres that have been stricken by urban blight, highlighting that major corridors linking Kingston to sprawling developments in St Catherine and elsewhere could soon be choked with traffic if thousands of workers still had to travel into the capital. The Mandela Highway, part of a trinity of Legacy Projects rolled out by the Holness Government, is in the final stages of completion and was originally set to cost US$64 million.

But even with that major infrastructural outlay, Holness said that “it can’t be that we allow development to just spread in a haphazard manner”, signalling that Greater Kingston, including the vast swathes of suburban St Andrew, had the potential to house thousands more people.

“We are forced to be doing these major infrastructure works because we need to be able to carry the traffic from as far as Clarendon and St Thomas into Kingston, and you imagine the traffic.

“So even though we have expanded the Mandela Highway, made certain changes, and we are improving, if we allow the development to continue as it is, within 20 years, we’ll be back to square one,” said Holness, in whose office the housing portfolio falls.

In making a pitch for developers to focus on constructing multi-storey apartments to better maximise urban density, including in Mandeville, Manchester, and the western city of Montego Bay, Holness hinted that the Government, through the National Housing Trust, might use that vehicle to incentivise higher-density population of towns and cities.

“At some point in time – and that point is coming soon – the Government will have to arrange its toolbox. As I said, the NHT (National Housing Trust) was an instrument, a tool, and the ministers are craftsmen of policy. So we will have to change policies and use the toolboxes to send signals to the private sector, the private developers, to give them incentives to focus on the areas that we already built,” the prime minister announced.