NEGRIL, Hanover — The issue of municipal status for Negril is back on the table even as major development plans for the resort town move closer to implementation.
Negril's need for autonomy was one of the issues discussed last Thursday when state minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Homer Davis and minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Matthew Samuda met with stakeholders to discuss plans for the area. Some projects are expected to commence within a few months. Among them is the strengthening of legislation that speaks to the ambit of the Negril/Green Island Area Local Planning Authority (NIGALPA).
President of the Negril Chamber of Commerce Richard Wallace has welcomed the development plans, including possible changes to the planning authority.
"Right now, we are straddled between two parish councils, two parishes and…it's not working. I think everyone recognises that we need to have some kind of municipality status because a lot of the problems that we're having now can be resolved if that is in place," he told the Jamaica Observer.
"One of the things that…we're not 100 per cent sure [is] if we are looking at a full municipality or some hybrid of it that can function and give us the autonomy that we need to thrive as a town and tourist resort. We all had that discussion," added the chamber president.
Sections of the town now fall within either the Hanover or Westmoreland municipal corporations.
For years there have been calls for Negril to be the master of its own fate. In 2016, then Chamber President Lee Issa spoke of the vital need for the town to be granted municipal status. In 2018, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie said that while he was open to the idea, Negril was not in a position to stand on its own financially.
"Obviously, we would have to look at how the town is financed. That is something that will be discussed and the legal minds will look at it as well and with input from the stakeholders. I am confident that we will come up with a formula that works," Wallace said on Friday.
There is no disputing that Negril has earning power.
Last Friday, during a ceremony to unveil a $12-m sign welcoming travellers to the area, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said Negril has contributed a third of the US$3 billion the country has earned from tourism since the start of the year. He also spoke of a raft of plans to have the town benefit from some of the revenue it has helped add to the State's coffers.
One project will be the creation of a Harmony Beach Park replica. However, while the 16-acre park in St James was constructed at a cost of $1.3 billion, the one for Negril may cost a fraction of that amount.
Bartlett also revealed that the underutilised Norman Manley Beach Park, which has become an eyesore in the town, will be transformed into a public access facility that will provide much-needed green space for recreational activity. The park has been closed to the public since 2014.
"We are going to be revisiting the public spaces of Negril. The first one that I have given instruction for is the beach park. We are putting together, in the first instance, somewhere in the region of a quarter million dollars to begin the process of transforming it to look as Harmony Park looks in Montego Bay," stated Bartlett, who noted that the St James-based park will be the prototype for other such facilities to be constructed islandwide.
While the tourism minister had first announced plans to develop the Negril park a month before the 2020 General Election, last Friday he noted that discussions for the design and architectural work had begun just the day before. He added that, while the project will not be completed overnight, the country has his commitment that it will become a reality.
Also included in the plans for Negril, which will see the involvement of various stakeholders, agencies and Government ministries, is a long-awaited fix to the sewerage system. There is also a plan to change the layout of Negril by removing the Norman Manley Boulevard and creating a bypass road.
In addition, about 5,000 rooms are to come on stream between Lucea and Negril in Hanover. Westmoreland is also slated for additional rooms as well.
During their meeting last Thursday, Davis and Samuda assured stakeholders that consultations will be had every step of the way. The chamber has promised to be a partner and work with the Government in making the plans a reality.