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For Portmore to become parish…

If the Municipality of Portmore in St Catherine is to become Jamaica’s 15th parish, squatter communities in Gregory Park, Newlands, Naggo Head and Old Braeton should be redeveloped, as far as the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is concerned.

This is one of several recommendations contained in an 11-page report presented to the joint select committee of Parliament deliberating the proposal by the entity when it met on Wednesday.

According to NEPA’s Frances Blair, the unplanned settlements should “be redeveloped at a higher density in order to provide housing and business opportunities for residents in the area”.

These communities, she said, “could be redeveloped as three- and four-storey walk-ups with commercial space to encourage businesses”.

According to the NEPA official, “the use of three- and four-storey buildings would allow for more ground space to be available for the provision of amenities such as open spaces, roads, sidewalks, water and sewerage lines and fire hydrants, among others”.

Furthermore, she said the renewal and upgrading programme should be done on a phased basis and in conjunction with private, government, educational and other stakeholders.

According to the Portmore Provisional Development Order, based on the limited land space available in the area, residential densities and heights should be increased to between 125 and 250 habitable rooms per hectare and heights of between four and six floors.

“This will occur throughout the entire area such as Gregory Park, Newlands, Braeton, West Bay, Naggo Head and Meadowvale,” Blair said. “It is expected that such developments will comprise single-family homes, townhouses and apartments”.

But Dr Carol Archer, professor of urban planning and public policy at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) in St Andrew, is expressing surprise and concern at the route to urban renewal proposed by NEPA, arguing that it will lead to the poor being “priced out” of home ownership and the continuation of the cycle of poverty.

She said her surprise was compounded by the fact that NEPA was party to a study done on Naggo Head by the university through Habitat International’s Building Resilience and Capabilities for Emergency Disasters (BRACED) a few years ago, which saw several recommendations being made in this respect.

“In our instance you don’t want urban renewal to equate to poor people removal; you have to ensure that the housing solutions capture all ends of the market. I am a little bit concerned with what is being proposed by NEPA and it is unfortunate that they had not referred to the work which USAID had paid us to do which we handed over to the Land Agency, and NEPA was involved in the process and we worked with them to come up with these recommendations,” Archer told the Jamaica Observer.

UTech, she said, worked with several communities in Portmore, for example Naggo Head, with the support of USAID. “We had put forward a very detailed community redevelopment plan for that area and we went through a very involved process through the BRACED Jamaica project, which we handed over to the parish council.

“It didn’t include any high-rises. We went through a process to work with the community to say what would be affordable. The first thing that has to be addressed whether it be Naggo Head, Gregory Park or Newlands is the issue of land ownership. Either the State is going to acquire those lands and give them to a company or an organisation,” Archer argued.

Archer, who is currently engaged in a project exploring the issue of community land trusts, said, “The key, whether it is Naggo Head or Newlands [is that] they are squatter communities. There is no land ownership. In Naggo Head we went through a process to assist them with land ownership.

“The truth is, not all of them could own the land because of the cost to acquire the land, so those who could manage to get their lands surveyed went through the process and we assisted them.”

She said coming out of that, her research has shown that for low-income communities it is best that the lands be owned in trusts and through the concept of social enterprise, in which the community takes its time and redevelops.

“What extensive planning research has shown is that when you have what is proposed by NEPA, you have what is called gentrification and the poor people are poorer because when you have a developer coming in they are not going to put up the type of units that the average person there can afford and they are going to be priced out of the market and you will have a continuation of the poverty scenario,” she told the Observer.

“Where you give the land in trusts to those communities it has to be done with the collaboration of the community, so that they can use their capital, their resources and incrementally build their community,” she said. “You don’t want urban renewal to equate to poor people removal; you have to ensure that the housing solutions capture all ends of the market.”

On Wednesday NEPA said, due to the geological nature of the soil type in Portmore, it is important that all the proposals obtain detailed engineering input and be reviewed accordingly.

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