Gov't earns nearly $4B from land sales in Greater Bernard Lodge development - Holness

ST CATHERINE, Jamaica— The Cabinet has approved the sale of 1,225 acres of land by SCJ Holdings Limited worth nearly $4 billion for mixed residential, commercial and light industrial undertakings to seven developers in the Greater Bernard Lodge development area.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness made the announcement on Wednesday in the House of Representatives.

He said the Cabinet has also approved the transfer of 102 acres of land to the National Housing Trust and the Housing Agency of Jamaica at zero cost as part of the effort to lower the cost of housing to persons of limited means.

“To date, gross earnings from land sales are expected to exceed $3.8 billion,” Holness told the House as he gave an update on the development where up to 17,000 houses are expected to be constructed. The prime minister said critical infrastructure was currently being worked on in what is being described as Jamaica's first smart city.

The development area totals 5,400 acres of which 3,027 acres have been reserved for agricultural purposes. The lands were previously part of the Bernard Lodge sugar estate.

Holness explained that the land owner, SCJ Holdings, has substantial legacy obligations of more than $2 billion incurred in connection with the divestment of the government-owned sugar estates and significant operating costs associated with the maintenance of and securing of unused properties and other assets.

He explained further that although the lands may not be in use, SCJ Holdings has to secure them and the security cost is high.

The prime minister noted that there was a “booming trade in illegal sand mining” on the Greater Bernard Lodge lands “which would have destroyed the value and usefulness of the land forcing the SCJ to undertake significant security contracts in order to preserve the land”. He said the net proceeds of the lands sales will be applied to clearing the SCJ’s obligations and the divestment of the properties will lower the entity’s operating costs and place the organisation in a stronger financial position.

And the prime minister said SCJ Holdings has also undertaken significant expenditure to improve agriculture infrastructure in the master plan area. To date, more than $600 million has been paid to more than 140 farmers who have been relocated within the development area.

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