Expect more access

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Expect more access

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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JAMAICANS should soon have increased access to public beaches, based on a policy paper tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday by Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment, and Climate Change Pearnel Charles Jr.

Among the recommendations in the Government's Beach Access and Management Policy for Jamaica is for the public to have the right to walk along the foreshore (lateral access) and bathe in the sea of the public beaches through an amendment to the Beach Control Act.

“These rights will be a qualified right, as there will be obligations for both the public and, where applicable, licencees,” the paper said.

The paper noted that the main concerns relating to beach access are: Unavailability of access points for physical access to the beaches; a lack of public beaches of a good standard; objection to the paying of fees by some members of the public; and the loss of visual access to the sea and coastline.

The paper also noted that of Jamaica's 795-kilometre coastline, approximately 4.5 kilometres are designated as public beaches, but 2.9 kilometres are beaches used in association with hotels.

Additionally, it reported that 45 per cent of the coastline is characterised as sandy beaches, while 35 per cent is seen as rocky (pebble) shore. With increased tourist and residential developments on the coastal strip, fewer good beaches are left available for development for public bathing.

“There have been various initiatives to rehabilitate some public beaches as well as to develop new beaches. These efforts have, however, not resulted in an overall improvement in the quality of public bathing beaches. This is due to the high cost of maintaining bathing beaches and the lack of strong interest by private interests in developing and/or operating public beaches,” the paper said.

It noted that, in addition, some beaches used by the public have been included in hotels or have been privatised.

“There have also been cases of disputes between communities and some Government agencies with regards to development plans for beaches used by the community. In addition, some fishing communities have been relocated, as the beach is unsuitable for fishing activities, to accommodate the expansion of the road network and for the development of housing and hotel projects,” it stated.

In the ministry paper Charles Jr said that, in support of the public's right to know and participate in the decision-making process, public consultations on the report will be held with respect to the divestment of public beaches, and, prior to the lease of Crown/Government beach properties to commercial interests, consultations would be held by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) — including representatives of the communities and other interested stakeholders — regarding the possible leasing of these properties as well as their management, development and upgrading.

He said that through the NRCA, the Government will establish mechanisms for the mobilisation of funds to support development and management of public bathing beaches, the issuance of beach licences under the Beach Control Act, the leasing of beaches to commercial operators, a dedicated annual allocation from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), and possibly an environmental levy and property taxes.

Wherever a public entity manages the public beach, all funds generated from the commercial activities undertaken at the beach, including entrance fees and fees for the use of the amenities, will be utilised for the maintenance of the property.

The next step, he noted, would be that subsequent to the tabling of the draft policy as a Green Paper in Parliament, public consultations will commence. Comments from these consultations will inform the revision of the policy. Thereafter, the revised policy will be submitted to Cabinet for approval and tabled in the House as a White Paper.


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