Friday 28 February, 2020

Phillips supports Bernard Lodge project review, but…

Dr Peter Phillips

Dr Peter Phillips

Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, has come out in support of the announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that a study and review of the Bernard Lodge New City project being implemented by the Government on lands owned by the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) is to be conducted.

However, while welcoming the announcement that was made on Wednesday, Phillips said the review should go further than the spatial and transport concerns that were outlined by the Prime Minister, to include other technical issues that were raised by hydrologists and other technical experts.

“The review must also include details of the divestment process used by the SCJ to sell the lands, which is known to be among Jamaica’s most productive agricultural lands,” Phillips said in a statement.

The Opposition leader is also proposing that the review should include independent state commissions, such as the Auditor General and the Water Resources Authority, to ensure transparency and technically sound decisions which will not compromise the constitutional rights of existing residents of the wider Portmore area to enjoy their properties.

Phillips also wants public consultation as part of the review, “so that property owners in the numerous housing and business developments in the Southern St Catherine plains in general, and Portmore in particular, can contribute to the planning process of this important landmark development project.”

He said “The contribution of the independent commissions and the people are extremely necessary, as the Government and its agencies could not be expected to review themselves.”

The Opposition leader said his proposals are intended to improve the outcomes of the review that was ordered by the prime minister, and should not be viewed as hostility to the Bernard Lodge project.

The controversial project is being developed on some 4,677 acres of land in the Greater Bernard Lodge area. It involves the construction of a brand new township, complete with some 17,000 houses, light manufacturing plants, hospitals, schools, fire stations and social amenities.

Nearly half of the land in the development area has been reserved for agriculture.

The controversy that has dogged the project since it was first announced by Holness in his budget presentation in March, 2018, escalated in February of this year when it was reported that some 45 farmers who have occupied lands along the Dyke Road in the development area for over a decade, had the access to their farms blocked without prior notice.

The lands have been sold to a consortium representing Megamart principal, Gazan Azan.

The Opposition served notice that it would take up the plight of the farmers, and Phillips stated that the proposed development has been "mired in controversy and cloaked in secrecy".

During his contribution to the Budget Debate in March, Phillips accused the Government of looking out for the interest of a select few.

“What the Bernard Lodge saga seems to confirm is that the policy in place now is for prosperity for a few connected people and leaving the others out of it,” Phillips said then.

Questions have also been raised about the possible permanent damage to the aquifer that serves the St Catherine plains, and whether the water supply for the new town will be adequate.

Additionally, concerns have been raised about whether the supporting infrastructure, such as roads, will be adequate to support the development, and whether the new town will negatively affect the existing Portmore landscape.

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