Mon | Sep 27, 2021

Parish boundaries, infrastructure concerns dominate town hall meeting

Published:Thursday | July 29, 2021 | 12:06 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer

As citizens of Portmore were drawn into the discussions for the first time on the issue of their municipality becoming Jamaica’s 15th parish, concerns about well-defined parish boundaries, infrastructural development and revenue fallout dominated a virtual town hall meeting last Thursday.

The meeting, which was convened by the Joint Select Committee of Parliament that is invested with the task of establishing the framework for Portmore parish status, saw moments of heated exchanges from committee members who dominated for most part of the meeting as the question of well-defined parish boundaries figured prominently in the discussions.

Claude Hamilton, a councillor in the Portmore Municipal Council, was the first to raise the question of boundary extension, given the fact that Portmore is landlocked by resident communities, and there will be need for additional land space to put in some basic amenities.

Chairman Andrew Wheatley responded by saying that if and when the act to designate parish status to Portmore gets to Parliament, the issue of parish boundaries will be addressed. This sparked a reaction from opposition member Fitz Jackson, one of the longest-serving members of parliament in the Sunshine City, who was clearly not satisfied with the chairman’s response.

“As I understand the question, there is a recognised 2003 boundary designation for Portmore. However, there was a proposal for a 2010 boundary adjustment which will extend the 2003 boundary to the west or northwest corridor. Is it that the proposal now being considered falls within the context of the existing 2003 boundary or some new boundary considerations,” Jackson enquired in support of Hamilton’s question.

At this point, committee member Everald Warmington interjected to accuse the then PNP administration that laid the existing 2003 boundary framework for the establishment of the municipality, of which Jackson was a member, of mishandling the process.

“On the issue, remember that you guys went about it the wrong way,” Warmington suggested before Jackson interrupted on a point of order, lambasting him for the use of the phrase ‘you guys’.

The interjection of the chairman, who sought to quell the heated exchange that ensued, prompted Warmington to withdraw the phrase and substituted it with the “Fitz Jackson group” instead, while continuing his critique of the former administration’s alleged mishandling of the boundary issue. He pointed out that it could not be the 2003 boundary designation since additional housing developments have come on stream since.

Pertinent question

Jackson, however, insisted that the answer to the question of defined boundary is pertinent since it allows the citizens to know if the community they now reside in is a part of the parish or not.

And while some participating residents sought to find out the extent to which critical infrastructure, such as road improvement and upgrade, fire station, hospital, the inclusion of government offices and other amenities will be established in Portmore before it becomes a parish, Wheatley indulged various government agencies to update the citizens on the plans for infrastructural development.

A concern also surfaced about the status of Hellshire, the Sand Hill road that is in a state of disrepair, and who will be responsible for road maintenance not only in Hellshire but other developments as well.

This question remained unresolved in the face of an eye-opening revelation that currently there are no designated government agency that has responsibility for the maintenance of the road networks in housing developments, once they are handed over by the developer.

Warmington again blamed the former PNP administration for this situation, while pledging that he will ensure that this matter is resolved in Parliament.

National Environment and Planning Agency CEO Peter Knight, in his contribution, pointed to what he called a SWOT analysis that was carried out in collaboration with other agencies.

“There are a number of opportunities as a parish that Portmore could benefit from,” Knight stated, highlighting the development of vacant lands into urban green space, access to the highway, access to the Greater Portmore Ponds and sewage-treatment systems, becoming a technology hub and the existing industrial parks were among the areas he mentioned.

Knight said other designations, such as the inclusion of a capital centre, public safety, transportation, economic opportunities, tourism, waterfront development, entertainment and culture, dealing with unplanned settlements, among others, were also included in the analysis.

It was revealed by the National Works Agency representative that a major road improvement and upgrading scheme is planned for Portmore, to include the upgrading of the Portmore Parkway to six lanes, the dualisation of the road from Naggo Head to Hellshire, improvements to points of entry into Portmore and the upgrading of the bridge in the vicinity of Mandela Highway and Ackee Village.

On the issue of the hospital, it was disclosed that the Ministry of Health has plans to build a new hospital in St Catherine, so Portmore could lobby for it. There are also plans afoot to upgrade one Portmore health centre to a Type-5 facility capable of handling emergency cases.

The subject of defined parish boundaries was not to be downplayed, as Mayor of Portmore Leon Thomas and municipal councillor Kenard Grant once again brought it into focus, insisting that it is an important issue to any parish status considerations.

Thomas also referenced the possible fallout in revenue that Portmore as a parish will experience, forcing the chairman to seek guidance from Ministry of Local Government experts on the matter.

While it was settled that most aspects of the revenue collection will remain the same, and in some cases property tax will see increases because of new housing developments, one area of contention was the breakdown of the Parochial Revenue Fund. The mayor believes that parish Portmore will be at a disadvantage because of its limited road network in comparison to mainland St Catherine.