Build the city on firm foundations

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Build the city on firm foundations

Duane
Smith

Sunday, January 10, 2021

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THE centuries-old adage “Rome was not built in a day” is often used to plead for patience but also alludes to the time necessary for massive or great works to be accomplished. We have arrived at that point in local development where homeowners and developers stand at opposite ends of the ring as it relates to several developments across the Corporate Area, with the judiciary officiating the proceedings.

Much of the issues contributing to the impasse are the consequences of the years-long lack of a modern national building code and structure. The great city was not built in a day, but the bricks were. The city of Kingston has as its motto, 'A city which hath foundations'. The foundations of this city must include, for many reasons, clear and enforceable standards and codes for building.

Many may not be aware that the motto of our capital city is taken from scripture found in the book of Hebrews 11:10. Abraham is chronicled as living in tents in a foreign country and yearned for the day he would be in a city with foundations.

“For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

Unfortunately, the days of divine architecture are long gone, and the builders and architects of today's world are less self-sacrificing than Christ. The Building Act of 2018 which was passed in Parliament and came into operation on January 15, 2019 addresses several critical issues that have laid unaddressed for far too long. It repealed the Kingston and St Andrew Building Act and the Parish Councils Building Act and makes new provisions for the regulation of the building industry in Jamaica.

Many things stand out in the Act including the emphasis placed on protecting the “public interest”. The persons required to comply with the building code are the builder, the owner or occupier of the land where the work is being carried out, persons concerned with the management of the building work, and the building practitioner or building professional who prepares plans and specifications for the building work. The local authority is responsible for the enforcement of the Act and therefore hold the provisions thereof near and dear to their very foundations, in the public interest of course.

With litigation taking place concerning many developments across the municipality, it is imperative that whoever the builder is, divine or not, this individual understands that the enforcement of the code is impartial and swift. Though many of the issues which are currently sub judice were before the enactment of the Act, the foundations exist which ought to ensure that the public interest is protected. I agree, Rome was not built in a day, but neither were many of the issues that we face as a municipality. Rather, they were built over time and allowed to transform in size and stature.

Housing in Kingston has become a precious commodity and many persons have invested considerable resources in the real estate market. Having the courts consider the demolition of millions of dollars cannot be in the best interest of neither the builder nor the buyer and, as a result, the public interest must be that we prevent the escalation, and in some cases the elevation that brings us to that point.

It was not an overnight occurrence leading to this situation as a city, but we can fix much of it in a day. We may not be able to build the city in a day, but the foundations can be improved and worked on systematically and consistently. For this to occur, dialogue and enforcement are key. Much more work needs to be considered as it relates to public education and implementation of the Act.

Despite the pandemic, we see that the construction industry continues to record growth while almost every sector has been recording a contraction. The economy for the built environment is growing and will continue to grow but let us ensure that what is built lasts and of course, is in the interest of the public.

The book of Hebrew writer described God as builder and maker according to the King James Bible but one thing is certain — the same deity also tore down many cities. Let us ensure we build for a sustainable and inclusive Kingston.

Duane C E Smith is councillor for the Chancery Hall Division of St Andrew North Western in the Kingston & St Andrew Municipal Corporation.


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