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Professor at the University of the West Indies, Anthony Clayton, says Jamaica needs a strong national planning agency to address matters relating to the environment and there are plans ahead to upgrade the National Environment Planning Agency (NEPA) into such an entity.

Professor Clayton made the observation while addressing the first in a series of public meetings on Friday, October 12, at the Cecil Charlton Hall in Mandeville. The meeting was held to outline some of the recommendations being proposed in the Environmental Regulatory Authority's (ERA) Green Paper to effectively address environmental, social and economical issues that will contribute to sustainable development and national growth.

Apart from its planning and advisory functions, he said, the Agency would have the task of "explaining to everybody what the plan is and how they should be in compliance with it".

Outlining other recommendations, Professor Clayton said it was being proposed that the current system of town and country planning be developed into a modern planning system. He said this would involve the establishment of a national spatial plan, a geographical information system or an electronic map, which would store layers of information, representing the geography, hazards and infrastructure of the country.

"The planning agency can look down through all these layers at once and can see immediately where there are no impediments to development and where there are some serious impediments to development," he explained.

Further, he said, the map will identify areas in which particular types of land use would be encouraged.                 
"That land can  then be pre-approved for development. So, if you come to me as the planning agency and you say you want to put a development in this area, all I have to do is look at the map and say that area is pre-approved for development, so in other words you can get immediate approval to go ahead," Professor Clayton explained.

On the other hand, he said permission will not be given to build in areas that are prone to land slippage or flooding. "If it is an earthquake prone area, we may allow you to go ahead provided you build the building to earthquake prone standards. You can't put a normal building in that area, it has to be designed to withstand an earthquake," he added.

Professor Clayton encouraged persons to attend the consultations to share their ideas and to ensure that they are included in the Green Paper.

"We want to hear from you as to what you think the  problems are, what your experience has been and what should be done to put these things right," he said.

Persons interested in reading the ERA's Green Paper can visit the JIS' website or www.cabinet.gov.jm/ERA