Mayors to step up no build enforcement


The Mayors of Portmore, Spanish Town and Morant Bay plan to revisit enforcement plans for ‘no-build’ zones in their respective parishes, to increase enforcement, following the devastation wreaked by Tropical Storm Nicole, recently.
Jamaica’s National Housing Policy, which is being fine tuned by the Ministry of Water and Housing, does not speak specifically to no-build zones. However, it speaks to the legal framework for housing and the elimination of squatter or informal settlements.
The legal framework calls for a review of the Local Improvements Act and the Town and Country Planning Act, with a view to bringing the subdivision of lands under a single Act.
Water and Housing Minister, Dr. Horace Chang told JIS News that a ‘No build’ zone in Jamaica could only be defined, after discussions between the National Environmental and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Water Resources Authority (NWRA).
Following the passage of Tropical Storm Gustav in August 2008, and the resulting property damage and loss of lives, Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding issued firm instructions for areas adjacent to the Hope River, where persons have erected homes, to be declared “no-build zones”.
It was also noted that, based on the pattern of destruction in several other areas, notably in St. Catherine, Kingston and St. Thomas, there was a need to implement similar orders, elsewhere.
“This (no-build zone order) is something that we will have to do where streams come into the sea, (and) where people are just building on the river bank. Of course, it creates all kinds of problems,” Dr. Chang said in a previous interview with JIS news. However, executing the order will have to be carefully done, as it would take time to relocate residents, he added.
The housing policy also addresses Squatting or Informal Settlements. It calls for a review of the Local Improvements Act and the Town and Country Planning Act. This includes reviewing the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act to better facilitate the provision of housing settlements; accelerating the squatter regularisation programme; containing the development and expansion of new squatter settlements; streamlining the Land Titling process; promoting incremental infrastructure development; encouraging industry specific sector housing, like tourism and agriculture, and encouraging aided self-help.
Mayor of Spanish Town, Dr. Andrew Wheatley, who is also Chairman of the St. Catherine Parish Council, told JIS News that with the parish on high alert following the preparations implemented prior to Tropical Storm Tomas, he would be leading a campaign in the Council to increase public awareness and compliance with ‘no build zone orders’.
“The St. Catherine Parish Council is constantly addressing the problem of ‘no-build’ zones, and we will be stepping up our drive to educate persons and to prevent persons from building in ‘no-build’ zones,” he said.
Several areas of concern have come in for scrutiny from the Mayor, including the banks of rivers being used as homesteads, and the general practice of squatting, as according to him, the lack of proper infrastructure and amenities can lead to serious public health hazards.
He pointed out that the Parish Council, as the local planning authority, has the power to enforce regulations in relation to development zones. He also noted that some persons were not willing to abide by the regulations, and would have to be taken before the courts, which could be a lengthy process.
Asked whether he was impressed with the effectiveness of the heightened national alert activated for Tropical Storm Tomas, Dr. Wheatley said he felt it had a positive impact and, for the most part, achieved its objective.
“Most, I believe, have heeded the message. Others continue to live in these hazard zones for a number of reasons, but we believe that we have a responsibility to continue to discourage this type of unauthorised settlement in the long run,” he noted.
Mayor of the Municipality of Portmore, Keith Hinds, points out that discouraging residents from building in ‘no-build’ or hazardous zones was an issue the municipal council has been addressing.
Buoyed by the success of the recent national alert activated for Tropical Storm Tomas, he said he would be making the matter a priority for the upcoming council meeting.
“I think its time that the Council bears some responsibility in shaping how people actually put up buildings in the municipality. We’ve seen what (Tropical Storm) Nicole has done to several areas in Kingston and St. Andrew,” he added.
Addressing a concern over available access roads out of the municipality in the event of a mass evacuation, Mayor Hinds said he would be holding talks with Minister of Transport and Works, Hon. Mike Henry, to guarantee access on the exit roads and speed up evacuation exercises, whenever there is a need.
Mayor Hanif Brown of Morant Bay, St. Thomas, told JIS News that the Council has intensified efforts to sensitise residents of hazard prone areas of the parish, to adhere to the guidelines of the planning process and would be both encouraging and enforcing.
“We know that there’s a social problem. Most of our rural communities have been developed in an adhoc manner and the whole issue of land for the landless and people having access to a piece of the land still remains a very fundamental issue,” he stated.
Mayor Brown pointed out that it was his intention to warn residents to conform, but the Council was very mindful of the high level of squatting, capturing of land and unplanned developments.
The Morant Bay Mayor pointed out that surveillance activities have been increased, but it continues to be an uphill battle with measured success in getting people to relocate.
“Persons are taking heed, and some persons want to relocate, but they can’t afford the price of land. We’re seeing some success, but enforcement will always be the order of the day and we need to have more dialogue,” he said.
The housing policy being promulgated by Housing Minister, Dr. Horace Chang, proposes the relocation of squatters to new sites when regularisation is not feasible.
It also seeks to sensitise squatters on their role and responsibility in the regularisation process, the assistance of private sector developers in the management of the process, aggressive monitoring of both government and private lands to prevent further squatting, installation and upgrading of physical infrastructure (road, water, electricity, drainage, and sewerage), instituting suitable interventions to encourage repayment for expenditure on infrastructure and housing where applicable.
Community workshops geared at sensitising residents to the building codes are to form part of a strategy by the Morant Bay Parish Council, to increase awareness and vigilance.
The Mayors also called on the public to be much more aware of the changes in the environment, and the subsequent damage being wreaked and plan carefully where residential holdings are placed, regardless of their economic circumstances.

JIS Social