JIS News

The draft interim report of the Special Select Committee of the Senate appointed to deliberate on matters surrounding the use of prime agricultural lands, has been submitted.
Among the recommendations is a call made by the group for amendments to the Housing Act and any other legislation which, at present, empowers the Minister to make planning decisions without reference to the appropriate laws and the formal approval process.
Committee Chairman and President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Senator Norman Grant, speaking at a Committee meeting at Gordon House today (March 15), said this was in response to concerns about the power given to the Minister under the Housing Act to circumvent the planning process and declare that lands were to be used for housing, without reference to the Town and Country Planning Act and without informing key land agencies.
Senator Grant said committee members as well as other individuals who met with the committee were of the view that it might not be necessary for the Minister to exercise such broad powers.
In his comments, Senator Trevor Munroe said the recommendation to curtail the powers given to the Housing Minister was strengthened by a similar decision taken in a 2002/03 Ministry Paper.
Senator Delano Franklyn also noted that while the rationale for the powers given to the Minister was understood, giving such autonomy was not in keeping with current times, as it was a period when all stakeholders should be fully engaged in the decision making process. He said the matter should be dealt with expeditiously.
On the protection of irrigated lands, the Committee recommended the curtailing of formal development plans, which would be detrimental to existing or proposed irrigation schemes in the 1998 National Irrigation Development Plan.
The group further proposed that urgent action be taken to put an end to squatting and sand mining on irrigated lands in St. Catherine and Clarendon where the practice is prevalent.
The Committee also called for the drafting and implementation of a scheme of work with measurable objectives that would lead to an increase in the percentage of irrigated cropland in the island.
Where the need for the upgrading of agricultural support services was concerned, it was also suggested that the upgrading of the services and the provision of equipment for use in the sector be the subject of a detailed plan to be implemented by the government with private sector support.
A Resolution which was brought before the Senate in February of last year called on the government to, among other things, retain suitable lands for agricultural development along Highway 2000 and adopt a policy to curtail the expansion of all residential development throughout Jamaica, to ensure that persons entrusted with the authority to prevent land zoned for agricultural use, would not allow them to be rezoned and used for residential purposes.

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