Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, says that the interests of all stakeholders in the Greater Bernard Lodge Development in St. Catherine will be safeguarded. He assured that under the project’s master plan, all of the issues raised “will be taken into consideration and the appropriate mitigation done.”
These matters include environmental sustainability, municipal matters pertaining to roads and drainage infrastructure, and displacement of agricultural holdings. “The concerns raised are legitimate but it doesn’t mean that they are fatal to the project… (because) there are ways to mitigate these…. and the Government has that in the forefront of its mind, in its planning and execution of the project,” the Prime Minister said. He was speaking with journalists following a tour of the project area on Wednesday (Oct. 16).
The project, which was originally slated to be developed on some 4,677 acres of land located between Spanish Town and Portmore, will now be built out on over 5,000 acres, consequent in the addition of 1,300 acres for agricultural activities.
Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Daryl Vaz, who was on the tour, said that persons with property holdings, who are impacted as a result of the project “will be compensated.”
Noting that less than 25 per cent of the land in the area is under cultivation, he said persons will be allowed to reap their crops, and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) will do a valuation to facilitate compensation where required.
Mr. Vaz advised that farmers being compensated for any potential displacement will either be relocated to agricultural land identified within the area for which the master plan has been developed or the additional 1,300 acres that have been incorporated.
“So, in the 1,300 additional acres that has been provided, there are about 70 farmers, who will have plots, ranging anywhere from two to five acres, and some as much as 100 acres, depending on the size of [their activities]. We will be putting in irrigation infrastructure and lighting so that it can be used properly,” he indicated.
“Most importantly, whether you are a legal lessee or [in] an informal arrangement, everybody will be treated [equally] and regularised, once it is that you are a legitimate farmer [who is] interested in doing agriculture”.
Additionally, he said that the master plan, “which is still in the preliminary stages”, will address several “legacy issues” raised by stakeholders in Portmore and surrounding communities in relation to roads and drainage, among other infrastructure, by enhancing what is now in place.
Meanwhile, Mr. Vaz said a public education campaign will be undertaken to heighten stakeholder awareness of the development.
He indicated that the Ministry is now undertaking the procurement process to identify a consultant to spearhead this exercise. He said that the procurement “should be completed by the end of October”.
Meanwhile, Mr. Holness, in highlighting the importance of project, said that “if the Government did not intervene with a comprehensive development plan, what would have happened is that the lands would have been developed incrementally… without a master plan, and the very environmental and municipal issues that have arisen would have, probably, been compounded.”
“The master plan was built on sustainability. So we have looked at the entire area and we have now come up with the appropriate way of reorganising the persons who are currently on the land, using it,” he said.
He said that objective is to enhance economic prospects for newcomers and those who are already utilising the lands.
The overall project area is bordered by the Lakes Pen main road to the north, Portmore Municipal Boulevard and Caribbean Estates to the south, and Phoenix Park and Dunbeholden Road to the west.
Features of the development include the construction of houses, and establishment of light manufacturing plants and agro-processing facilities, in addition to agricultural activities.