Look before you leap, PM, on proposed Heroes' Park plan

Monday, April 23, 2018

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Dear Editor,

The following is an open letter to Andrew Holness, prime minister of Jamaica

Approximately one year ago, the College of Fellows of the Jamaican Institute of Architects (COF-JIA) wrote to you and met with you to discuss several major concerns about the memorandum of understanding (MOU) entered into between the Urban Development Corporation (UDC)/Government of Jamaica and China Construction America-South America division (CCASA) for the finalisation of a master plan for a parliament building and government ministries in and around Heroes Park (Oval Zone Project), and for the development of downtown Kingston.

The MOU also authorised the concept designs and construction budgets for all major buildings contemplated in the plan. Among our concerns was that the plan was to be developed and finalised by CCASA/UDC without the benefit of any public consultations. We deeply regret that these concerns were ignored.

The one-year period of the MOU with CCASA has elapsed, and Dr Damian Graham, managing director of the UDC, has informed us that Cabinet is soon to make the final determination on advancement of the project.

We, the College of Fellows of the JIA, among the most senior members of the profession in Jamaica, are now more than ever concerned that you are being called on to make a final decision as to the implementation of a proposal without all the necessary informed advice and public consultation that you should have in order to make such a far-reaching decision, which will have enormous ramifications for the city and the country.

As an example, we are in possession of a master plan drawing which Dr Graham has confirmed corresponds to the latest plan for the Government Oval Zone. It is out of our grave concerns for what we see being proposed on this plan that the COF wishes to present a few brief comments to highlight some of the issues.

i. Loss of the use of National Heroes' Park as a major public recreational open space: The UDC/CCASA proposal is for the parliament building to be sited in the centre of Heroes' Park on an estimated 19.5 acres of land, with a national museum to take up another 4.2 acres at the northern end across from Wolmer's Boys' School. With the using up of 23.75 acres of the park for high-security, walled/fenced off complexes, along with the approximately 15 acres already fenced off for the memorial sites, this plan effectively removes around 40 acres of the 50-acre site, and destroys the potential for Heroes Park to be properly developed as a major public recreational open space.

It is of note that the King George VI Memorial Park 1956 Act states quite clearly that the park was bequeathed to the people of Kingston 235 years ago. The Act also states that the vesting of the park in the Kingston & St Andrew Corporation is for it to be used as a “public garden, pleasure park and recreation area” for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Corporate Area.

Where, Prime Minister, will the residents have as a green space and a respite from the dense living conditions that many face if this plan is implemented?

It is of paramount importance, especially as the GOJ, through National Environment and Planning Agency, has been promoting higher housing densities throughout the city, that the sole remaining large public open space in this area be protected, as far as possible, for use by citizens, particularly residents and other inhabitants of the adjoining Allman Town, Kingston Gardens, Cross Roads, Woodford Park, etc.

It is our opinion that further discussions need to be had with other stakeholders in regard to the siting of the proposed parliament building as well as the national museum.

ii. Proposed demolition of existing buildings around the Oval

As illustrated in the master plan, the buildings presently used by the ministries of finance, education, and labour and social security are to be demolished to make way for new structures. In addition, virtually every existing residential and commercial building within a block around the park is to be demolished, including most of the community of Allman Town.

The cost and disruption that would be involved in demolishing the existing ministry buildings, relocating operations to interim facilities, and building new buildings to replace them would be an enormous waste to the country. The further cost of acquiring and demolishing entire communities in the surrounding areas would also be astronomical, not to mention the disruption and displacement of the thousands of people living and working there.

This approach to urban renewal is contrary to accepted best practices worldwide and would only be contemplated if there was no other option, and if there were extremely compelling reasons to do so. Locating the government ministries in one central location cannot be considered a compelling reason for this disastrous proposal.

In view of the above, and many other issues that need to be discussed and resolved, we are recommending to you, once again, that the proper procedure for preparing a master plan for developing the Oval Zone area, or any other area for that matter, must involve a high level of public consultations. This is so that you can have inputs from stakeholders — not only planning and design professionals, but residents and business people in the immediately affected areas, and civil society in general, as all Jamaicans will be permanently affected by the social, economic and environmental consequences resulting from the decisions you make on this project.

We urge the Cabinet not to finalise decisions to proceed with the mentioned concept designs and construction budgets as the designs of specific buildings have no relevance in the basis for the projects themselves, and their siting in a master plan for development are intrinsically flawed.

As always, we would welcome an opportunity to meet with you and members of the Cabinet for a further presentation and discussion. We look forward to hearing from you at the earliest possible time. In the meantime, as we consider the matter to be one for urgent national attention.

Clifton Yap

Chairman

College of Fellows

Jamaican Institute of Architects

cliftonyap1@gmail.com

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