News

St Catherine SW demands more than housing projects

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Sunday Features editor thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 20, 2010    

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THREE years ago, Government planners projected that by 2030 Old Harbour would become the fastest growing urban centre in the country.

They said its population should almost double -- from roughly 30,000 to 55,543 -- as the once sleepy farming area soaks up the spillovers from Kingston, Spanish Town and Portmore.

If the expansion now underway in the town and its outlying subdivisions is anything to go by, those targets may be met sooner than later. There are at least five housing developments in varying stages of completion in the area, including Presidential Palace, Rhone Park Estates and New Harbour Village II.

The Aviary and New Harbour Village have been completed. On Old Harbour Road, Seville Meadows is under construction while Wedgewood Gardens, Magil Palms and White Water Meadows have been completed. Other signs of development in Old Harbour proper are a few new businesses -- fast food and telecommunications enterprises -- and the building earlier this year of a bus and taxi stand.

Most residents see the development in a positive light, but not everyone is pleased.

"The only fault I have is that they using the farm lands to build the houses," said a farmer. "Soon we going to have house and no food because we can't farm on the hillside... We want factories so that people can get work."

At the East Street bus and taxi park, operators were largely in favour of the expansion, but at least one of them, a conductor, agreed with the farmer that as good as they were, the development projects did not address the paucity of jobs in the area.

"Youth still hungry and nuh have no work. Who not begging have to load bus because they have to hustle. I would want to do something better but a can't get any work so mi duh this," he said.

"We need businesses and we need places that offer small business loans too," added Winston Ellis from Claremont Heights.

A female employee of a wholesale in the town was one of those who was excited by the development.

"The development is a good thing because the town is boring so with the coming of KFC and Pizza Hut, which will be coming soon, it's good for young people because they also need safe places to hang out," she said.

But there are communities in the St Catherine South Western constituency that are underdeveloped. Red Ground, for example, has had no piped water for several years according to the residents; Bannister, Claremont Heights, Old Harbour Bay, Nightingale Grove, Bodles Crescent and Horizon Park need road repairs; and Burke Road Heights, the former Succaba Pen, needs to shake off a past characterised by asbestos-laden pipes and be upgraded from a squatter settlement.

Residents said there is a major missed opportunity in Colbeck Castle, the 17th century brick and stone ruins and the woods surrounding it, that lie about seven minutes outside the Old Harbour town.

"Colbeck Castle is one of the best developments that could happen. It could be a tourist attraction because all the walls are still in tact. It could be a big money-making project," said Ellis.

In Red Ground, where residents have to pay as much as $1,500 to fill a 650-gallon water tank or store rainfall, people are fuming. They said Member of Parliament Everald Warmington is not addressing the situation with any urgency.

"We have the worst MP," one woman said. "Him say him spend $30 million to lay pipe and all now we nuh have no water."

Warmington, in his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in 2008, told the House that the community would have piped water by December of that year.

"Phase 1 of the Colbeck Heights/Red Ground/Bartons water supply is now well under way. Red Ground should have water by August while Bartons should be covered by December," he said then.

A year and a half later, the areas are still without piped water.

"We are desperately in need of flowing water in the community," said Winnifred Wallace, principal of St Patrick's African Methodist Episcopal Basic School.

She added that she has to think about sourcing water every three or four weeks when the 400-gallon water tank that serves the student population of 40 is depleted.

Of the roads in Bannister, a community where one resident estimated the employment rate to be 10 per cent, Ernest Williams said they have been in disrepair for "about 20 years now".

In sections of Old Harbour Bay, the driving surface is nothing but compact dirt.

"We have no road in Bay Bottom. It's a river bed," one woman said. "The MP isn't doing anything. I'm not sure if it's because it's a PNP area, but the area is neglected."

By contrast, areas such as McLeod Close heaped praises on the MP.

"Him gi we road fi walk pon, streetlight and water," a group of women sitting under a tree said.

"And anything you ask him do it," one of them added.

The major issue for the people of Succaba Pen, recently renamed Burke Road Heights, is land ownership.

"We need our land. We need to be able to purchase the land," said president of the provident society there, Randolph Bartley.

Bartley and assistant vice-president Charles Smith said residents attempted to buy the lands before but were barred by the then Operation Pride on the basis that the community had a health hazard in the form of asbestos. The cancer-causing chemical was in industrial pipes lying around.

"NEPA came and removed it some three years now so we now need to know when we will be able to purchase," said Smith.

Off Old Harbour Road, enmity is brewing between residents of Sydenham Villas and Magil Palms.

The road through Horizon Park to Magil Palms is rough and uneven; so many of its residents use the entrance through Sydenham Villas. But the people from the latter community are not amused.

"Magil Palms, White Water Meadows, Seville Meadows, everybody comes through here. The people from Magil use it as a throughway but they need to use their own entrance. They are a gated community and I'm sure we wouldn't be able to drive through their community if our roads were bad," said one Sydenham resident.

In their defence, Magil Palms residents said they have on more than one occasion approached the MP to repair the roads, but his attitude towards them was less than they expect of their representative.

"We went to him and he was referring us to the developers (Canadian firm Magil). Don't tell me about a developer. The fact is that we are people and people live here. You need to take care of the Jamaicans who live here," fumed one female resident.

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