MONTEGO BAY, St James — Contractors will pump additional resources into the delayed Union Acres housing development for civil servants, and an assessment will be made next month to see if the project is back on track. Located on 20 acres of land in Irwin, St James, some of the 144 units were supposed to be ready in March but since Prime Minister Andrew Holness broke ground last May, no structures have been completed except for a security post.
The development is a joint venture between the National Housing Trust (NHT), the Jamaica Civil Servants Association (JCSA) and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU). Work is being done by Can-Cara Developments Ltd which also built the nearby Meadows of Irwin development. The Jamaica Observer first reported the delay on Union Acres on January 20 and in the last week work has visibly begun on one house.
"The contractor is taking steps to introduce additional resources to see whether or not we can bring it back in line," JCTU Assistant General Secretary Clifton Grant told the Observer last Friday.
He said there were monthly meetings of a committee made up of representatives from the NHT, JCSA and JCTU to discuss the status of the project. Based on discussions at previous meetings, he said, the JCTU was aware that the project would not meet the original timeline to start handing over houses to its members. The application process had not yet begun and so the project is not on members' radar at this point, he said. He is optimistic that the contractor will get it back on track.
"If, on this particular project, I didn't see the contractor take steps to try and advance the process, I would be very, very concerned," he said.
"We just have to recognise that there are certain things we can't avoid no matter how you plan carefully. Things are going to come up. I would be concerned if there were no steps taken to inject additional resources to bring it back online," he added.
In response to queries from the Observer, the NHT had blamed the delay on hiccups with the "approval process and finalising the terms of the design build contract". It also said the project was still being affected by "adverse weather conditions linked to excessive rainfall".
The NHT, Grant said, has done a good job in providing updates at monthly meetings. The most recent sit down was last Thursday, the day before he spoke with the Observer. He is looking forward to the next one, towards the end of February.
"The monthly meeting will give us a good feel whether or not all the parties involved are doing what needs to be done to keep the project going and to ensure that we come out on time and reduce any possibility of any escalation in the cost of the project. So the fact that we are meeting, the dialogue going on between all the stakeholders, I'm a little more comfortable in terms of this particular project that we are doing everything to deliver to the beneficiaries," he said. "I am satisfied that everybody's doing everything to ensure that we deliver."
His major concern now, he said, is how to move along discussions about future projects. The Irwin development is the second of nine to be completed across the country and land has been identified in St Mary and St Thomas for other projects. The first one, which was in St Catherine, also suffered from delays. It took four years for 700 houses to be delivered. Grant has been vocal in his criticism that these housing developments, the Government's attempt to keep a decades-old promise, have been too slow in coming. During the ground-breaking ceremony for the Union Acres project, he noted that the Government had agreed, in the 1990s, to provide houses for public sector workers in lieu of salary increases. His hope is that he can move the projects along by getting talks going about another as soon as one has started. He has not had time to talk to the NHT about the third project, he said, as the delayed Union Acres build has been their focus. Plans for the third development, he said, is an issue he intends to raise at the February meeting.
"Public sector workers make too much sacrifice in this country for us to just have them on a road map to deliver what we promised that we deliver to them. The prime minister indicated that we have identified land in a number of parishes. If we identify the lands, we need to come up with a timeline as to when we will reach where," said Grant.
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