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Gov’t, NEPA knew about Royalton breaches — JET

Wednesday, May 11, 2016




MONITORING reports obtained under the Access to Information Act show that several agencies of Government have been aware, from as far back as November 2015, of a string of permit breaches at Blue Diamond Royalton Hotel in Negril — where a building collapsed on Tuesday, injuring at least five construction workers.


In releases to the media yesterday, both the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and the Negril Chamber of Commerce (NCC) referenced Post Permit Monitoring Reports received from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) for the two Royalton hotels, the one in Negril and another in Cooper’s Pen, Trelawny.


According to the documents, the holder of the permit is BBNH Resorts Limited and the permitted activity is "construction and operation of a hotel or resort complex of 501 rooms or more". The dates on which the projects were approved are October 10, 2015, and November 10, 2015, while the respective inspection dates were December 17, 2015 and January 29, 2016.


"These two reports reveal a significant level of non-compliance only two months into the permit’s life," JET said. "Following a Warning Notice (#8822) issued on December 3, 2015, the permittee remained in breach, with a compliance level of only 34.5 per cent as at the monitoring visit on December 17, 2015. In January 2016, the compliance level decreased to 27.6 per cent.


"As at December 17, 2015, the permittee was in breach of 18 specific conditions of the 29 that were evaluated on that visit. Warning Notice #09552 was issued to the civil works manager, which addressed five breaches. There were six conditions that were addressed in Warning Notice #8822, previously issued, that were still in breach," JET said.


It was not ascertained, up to last evening, what caused the collapse at Blue Diamond but JET maintained that it could have been avoided if Government had enforced the country’s environmental and planning laws.


"The pro-development rhetoric which suggests that laws and regulations are obstacles to economic prosperity has continued … but the Royalton collapse is an example of what reckless disregard of regulation leads to," JET CEO Diana McCaulay said yesterday. "It is clear that more needs to be done than simply issuing Warning Notices regarding the same breaches."


She said that of the 11 plans/drawings that should have been submitted for approval either before or soon after the beginning of the development works, nine were not, despite construction being well underway. In addition, construction was not in conformance with the other two plans/drawings that were previously submitted.


"All the relevant Government agencies, elected officials and ministers of Government knew, or should have known, about this situation. From the research JET did, using the Access to Information Act, the breaches had been reported both to and by the National Environment and Planning Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), the Hanover Parish Council, the Negril/Green Island Planning Authority, and to the former and current political directorate."


The Negril Chamber of Commerce also criticised the Government for failing to take action against the hotel developers.


"This project started off badly. When the demolition of the old Grand Lido hotel was taking place, the rubble from this exercise was illegally dumped, and it was after the fact that the permits were granted. There were no fines levied on the investor and/or the contractor as stipulated by the law," the NCC said.


"Then, before receiving approval of their plans from NRCA/NEPA, the hotel was well under construction. This resulted in NEPA issuing a stop order on the works, which was blatantly ignored, and a few days later, their permit was granted. There was also no requirement from the investors to have an Environmental Impact Assessment done, although they are increasing the size of the hotel from just over 200 rooms to some 700-plus rooms. NEPA, however, assured the NCC that this project was on a special monitoring list."


Further, the chamber said it had requested, using the Access to Information Act, drawings submitted for approval and protested rooms over the water shown on what was received.


"We were promised via e-mail of November 5, 2015 from NEPA CEO Peter Knight that ‘a copy of the final designs/drawings for this development will be available for viewing by all concerned very soon. Once the permitting etc, is completed, it will show no inclusion or consideration of overwater rooms at this time’."


The chamber, which is headed by Lee Issa, said Knight is yet to uphold his end of the bargain.


"The NCC is calling on the new minister responsible for the environment, the NRCA and NEPA boards to immediately halt construction and ensure that not only the environmental concerns are addressed but also that there is compliance with building codes and the development orders. It is unacceptable for an investor to do as they please at the expense of Jamaican lives and Jamaica’s environment," said the chamber.


See our website for a full list of the breaches at both Royalton properties, according to the documents received from NEPA.