Gov't wants to lease Holywell landTuesday, June 16, 2020
BY KIMONE THOMPSON
GOVERNMENT is seeking to lease a seven-acre plot of land at Holywell in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, a protected area which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015.
Bid documents obtained by the Jamaica Observer indicate that the property is being offered for the purpose of a single-family dwelling house for a term of 25 years, at a rate of $120,000 per year.
The land is identified as part of Holywell (Forest Hut), in Hardware Gap, St Andrew. It is approximately 3.8 kilometres west of the Newcastle army base and is located on the western side of the Newcastle to Green Hill Parochial Road. The southern side borders the car park of Holywell Recreation Park.
The offer notice on the National Land Agency (NLA) website says the winning bid is to be announced today at the agency’s North Street office.
The Jamaica Conservation Development Trust (JCDT), which manages the park on the Government’s behalf, is not amused and has written to Commissioner of Lands Elizabeth Stair outlining its “strenuous objection” to the move.
“We are disturbed that the NLA is offering land for lease within the national park and buffer zone of the World Heritage Site... We strongly object to the offer of land for lease (i) within the national park and (ii) at the particular location indicated within the NLA request for submission of offers for lease of land at Holywell,” said the letter signed by Executive Director Dr Susan Otuokon.
The JCDT argues that using the land for a private development will bring the World Heritage Site status into question by UNESCO and its World Heritage Committee in terms of Jamaica’s commitment to the World Heritage Convention.
It argues further that the land proposed to be leased for constructing a private dwelling is one of the few remaining sites in the area under good forest cover and will require the clearing of trees to establish a house.
“This certainly is not in keeping with the objectives of protecting the natural forest within the national park... leasing land within the national park to private individuals is not supportive of the broad objectives of the national park which are to protect biodiversity, ecosystem services, and provide recreational and educational opportunities for the public,” the JCDT said.
The trust alleged in its 11-point letter — copied to the defacto environment minister, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and a string of Cabinet ministers and agency heads — that a government minister from Holness’s Jamaica Labour Party is an interested party.
“The national park legislation and management plan are not supportive of the type of private development proposed in the form of a privately owned home,” the JCDT contended, adding that “leasing land to a private individual within the national park sets a bad precedent, and poor management of land under existing leases prior to national park designation does not augur well for management of land under the proposed lease.”
The Blue and John Mountains National Park is a protected area under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act, Forestry Act and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust Act.
Under the NRCA Act, a protected area is any area of land or water… which may… preserve any object (whether animate or inanimate) or unusual combination of elements of the natural environment that is of aesthetic, educational, historical or scientific interest.
The Forestry Act says it is any area required for protection from a number of purposes including flood and landslide protection, soil protection, erosion, maintenance of water supply and protection of amenities, flora and fauna. In protected areas, the following land uses are prohibited or strictly regulated: cultivation, grazing, burning, clearing of vegetation.
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