Fitz under fire

Fitz under fire

Jackson's decision to lease lands in Bernard Lodge development, which he has been strident against, sparks firestorm


Sunday, February 16, 2020

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Fitz Jackson — the Opposition People's National Party's (PNP) point man in its bid to push the Government to scrap plans for a multi-billion-dollar residential, commercial and light industries development in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine — is facing strong criticisms in some quarters following news that he has acquired 20 acres of land in the area.

“It's morally wrong and worse that he did not see fit to disclose it. This smacks of 'bad mind', that he wants to personally benefit from the planned development of the Bernard Lodge area as devised by the revised master plan, but he wants to deprive his constituents and scores of other Jamaicans from the benefits,” charged Daryl Vaz, the Government's point man on the project.

“Mr Jackson has been so stridently opposed to the development that he did not attend the launch of the revised master plan at Jamaica House last Friday, to which he was invited, but he started a new company last February to take advantage of this great opportunity.

“I will not be distracted from the task ahead to implement this game-changing development. Let the people judge his actions,” declared Vaz last Friday.

But yesterday, Jackson told the Jamaica Observer that there was nothing underhand or contradictory in his opposition to the project, which will see construction of houses on prime farmlands.

“I absolutely rubbish this claim that I am being a hypocrite, and it shows the desperation of Minister Vaz, which is most unfortunate. I would have thought that his maturity, and the office that he holds, would have dictated otherwise,” declared Jackson.

“I have been open. Fitz Jackson never used any company circuitously, with any third-party name. I have been very upfront from day one with the SCJ Holdings (the landowner), nothing secret or quiet about it, because there was nothing to hide. The transparency was always there.

“I would never ask them to change their plans to benefit me. I have asked them not to go down a path to benefit the persons who would have been affected, one way or the other, by what they propose to do,” added Jackson.

He said his opposition to the planned Greater Bernard Lodge Development over the past few years is based on several issues, including the fact that the Government is taking out hundreds of acres of prime farmland to build houses and do other non-agricultural activities.

Jackson said his opposition was also based on concerns shared by many others about the impact that the development will have on a valuable water source, the initial plan to displace several farmers who have been there for many years, and the possible impact that the Bernard Lodge plan could have on the infrastructure of surrounding communities.

According to Jackson, his decision to acquire the 20 acres, which he was told by the SCJ was not a part of the Bernard Lodge development, was not contradictory as he is adamant that the area should remain in agriculture.

“First of all, as a principle of mine, I never, and have never, gone into any contractual arrangement with the Government in any area in the constituency that I represent (St Catherine Southern). When I approached SCJ to identify 20 acres of land they did so in an area that was in my constituency, and because of my principle I said no,” said Jackson.

“They directed to me other lands in Innswood, which would have been outside my constituency. They identified a parcel of land and proceeded to draft the lease agreement for that. They later came back to me and said that area was needed for a bigger project so they relocated the 20 acres. They identified another parcel of land that a lessee was giving up in the Bernard Lodge area.

“I asked the question, 'would that area be affected by the proposed development?' and I was told no, it was outside the area. From day one, when SCJ proposed an alternate site, they said it would not be affected by the proposed Bernard Lodge development, one way or another,” added the PNP chairman.

Jackson, through a company called Celestial Farms Jamaica Limited, acquired the land from its owner, the Sugar Company of Jamaica, in a deal signed November 21, 2019.

The lease agreement, which was witnessed by another PNP Member of Parliament, is for 20 years and includes a provision that the property should be used only for the purpose of farming and processing cannabis and/or marijuana.

It also provides for the termination of the lease if the land is not in use for any period of one year. This is a provision which Vaz declared would be in all the leases for property in the Bernard Lodge development.

Jackson has declared his interest in Celestial Farms to Parliament and sought an extension to enter into business with the Government.

The revised Bernard Lodge Master Plan proposes the development of just over 5,384 acres with 56 per cent of that amount devoted to agricultural use, 28 per cent for residential use, and the remaining 16 per cent for utilities, open spaces and commercial use.

During last Friday's news conference, Vaz said the the development will improve several areas of infrastructure in Portmore, including the provision of potable water, sewerage, waste management, drainage, road rehabilitation in the Greater Portmore area, aquifer protection, and regularisation of agricultural lots.

“The master plan will not take away from existing communities but will enhance the infrastructural legacy deficit which exists through development, which is a part of its remit,” said Vaz.

He added that with the Bernard Lodge development being the largest in the area for many years, rehabilitation works will be carried out on specific areas within the Greater Portmore area.

“Work will be carried out on Grange Lane, Dunbeholden main road, Passagefort Drive, and Dyke Road intersection and the Bernard Lodge main road,” he said.

“The scope of the work will include adding traffic signals, increasing the number of lanes, adding pedestrian crossings, rehabilitation of corridors, installation of sidewalks and street lights, and the construction of a four-lane bridge across Highway 2000 east west,” said Vaz.

“This development will be transformation for Portmore and sections of St Catherine and will be the start of a smart city,” added Vaz.

Last Thursday, Jackson slammed the Government for what he said was its failure to keep its promise to have wide consultation with stakeholders ahead of any approval of the revised master plan.

“As the Member of Parliament whose constituency is a part of the Bernard Lodge area, I consider myself a stakeholder making representation on behalf of the thousands of residents who would be affected by any proposed development. I have never been consulted on any revisions or changes made...,” said Jackson.

“The broader Portmore community, which will be significantly affected by the scale of the proposed Bernard Lodge development, has not been consulted,” charged Jackson.

But on Friday, Vaz, supported by chairman of the enterprise team leading the development, Joseph Shoucair, who is also the head of SCJ Holdings which owns the land, challenged that claim.

“This media briefing will be the first of many during the execution of the development, which includes a robust community consultation and citizen awareness and education efforts. SCJ Holdings has also, through the public consultation meetings that have taken place between 2019 and now, engaged several community groups, sporting associations and youth clubs,” said Vaz.

He pointed out that the first general public meeting about the development will take place this Thursday and comments and recommendations from members of the public will be considered.

“Because it is never too late to make changes, if it is that those changes make sense and enhance what we already have,” said Vaz.

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