On July 24, the RJR group held a townhall meeting in the Wolmer’s Boys School auditorium about the proposed building of Parliament in the National Heroes Park. The panel was chaired by Mrs Deon Jackson-Miller.
Dr Damian Graham, General Manager of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) started out by saying that the re-development plan was at a vision level, not an implementation level. He said that his organization was working in collaboration with other government entities like the National Housing Trust and National Environment Planning Agency.
Ms. Carol Narcisse representing civil society said that government cannot plan for the people without the people and that they need to be involved at a conceptual stage.
Mr. Karl Chen, architect said that the Town Planning is required by law to consult with the residents. He asked what are the reasons that National Heroes Park was chosen for the new parliament building and if other sites were considered.
The floor was then opened to the audience. Mr. Errol Deans from Allman Town expressed concerns about the possible uprooting of residents from their houses. Dr. Graham’s response was that under the overall Downtown Kingston development plan, there would be no uprooting of residents. Ms. Narcisse in response said that the plan showed significant areas of surrounding communities being levelled. She also said that landowners in the area were being offered money for their property. Residents voiced their agreement to this. Dr. Graham in his response said that it is private persons who are acquiring land in the area.
Therese, a resident in the area said that she was disappointed that she did not get any specifics on the plan as she had been hearing for the longest time that is at the concept stage.
Mr. Chen asked if no buildings are to be demolished, where are the 25 acres of open space proposed to come from.
Member of Parliament Mr. Ronnie Thwaites said that the UDC is doing things upside down and that the people should be consulted before taking plan to cabinet.
Dr Graham spoke about putting funding into housing, building high rise apartments 4 – 8 floors.
Ms. Narcisse said that the citizens have moved beyond those who manage the country’s affairs and that they behave as if they are managing their own property.
Mr. Chen said that when the project was first proposed, architects raised concerns that no local professionals were involved. They were first told that they could volunteer their services and then later told that there was a design competition that they could enter but there was no guarantee that the winning design would be chosen. He also said that the 1965 Development Order designates National Heroes Park as publicly owned space.
A resident said that there a parts of the park that cannot be built on but did not say why. Residents sitting nearby told me that there is a well on the property.
Mr Douglas Orane said there are other areas that the Parliament building could have been constructed and asked whether a cost/benefit analysis had been done of the project.
Having listened to the different views expressed, it is painfully obvious that there are more questions than answers about this project. The UDC general manager Dr. Graham provided more heat than light and contradicted himself at times.
The final outcome of this project remains uncertain but it is important for Jamaican citizens to remain vigilant no matter what.