Is Sustainable Development Even Possible in Negril?

I asked myself this question as I read environmental activist Diana McCaulay’s letter to the Gleaner this morning. I thought I would share it with you, so that you can see how very far the (once) beautiful tourist resort of Negril is from the concept of sustainable development. If you know anything about the sad state of Negril in 2015, you will see that the provisions of the 1981 Town and Country Planning Development Order for the area bear no relation at all to what is actually happening on the ground. A national park? Far from it. Tree preservation? I don’t think so. Public access? That is a joke. No pollution? No comment.

You can find Ms. McCaulay’s letter online at http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/commentary/20150218/negril-and-towers-babel The letter is also published in the Jamaica Observer today: http://m.jamaicaobserver.com/mobile/environment/Wanton-disregard-of-Negril-development-order-to-our-demise_18418118

FOOTNOTE: Isn’t it curious, too, that whenever stakeholders, community members and environmentalists are invited to these meetings and “consultations” it is always at the very last minute – so those invited are often unable to attend? I wonder why this happens so often? Then when the Government makes a development decision that impacts communities and causes environmental destruction, a press release goes out saying that “consultations were held.” Hmm.

FOOTNOTE 2: Damian “Junior Gong” Marley has produced a marvelous protest song by Kabaka Pyramid called “Well Done.” It is patting the politicians on the back for the good job they are doing of “selling out” Jamaica. This is an anthem for Negril, and for the whole island. You can find it on SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/bebblerock/kabaka-pyramid-well-done and buy it on iTunes.

Negril is crying out for help. Please be aware, and take what action you can. Spread the word.

CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust Diana McCaulay with hotelier Lee Issa at a press briefing when the issue of the Negril breakwater was first raised. (My photo)
CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust Diana McCaulay with hotelier Lee Issa at a press briefing when the issue of the Negril breakwater was first raised. (My photo)

On Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 10 p.m., I received an email from the Ministry of Land, Water, Environment and Climate Change inviting me to a public meeting on Friday, January 30, 2015 at 2 p.m. in Negril to discuss certain provisions of the new provisional development order for the Negril and Green Island Area. I objected (wearily) to the ridiculously short notice and was not able to attend. I later learned that the meeting was called to discuss an amendment to the building height restriction in the current development order.

I reviewed the 1981 Town and Country Planning (Negril and Green Island Area) Development Order, confirmed in 1984, given that it is hard to believe that Negril and its environs have been under any form of planning control. Throughout the document, the beauty, importance, fragility and interconnectedness of Negril’s natural resources are emphasised. These attributes are said to be the basis of the resort area itself, to deliver opportunities for recreation and education, and to provide a range of ecosystem services, including protection from storms, fishing and flood control. Some specific provisions of the 1984 development order were:

There must be public access to and along the foreshore.

No pollution on the coast or marine environment.

No modification of natural features of the foreshore without the permission of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA).

The size, height, colour and look of buildings will be controlled by the local planning authority in order to preserve design and amenity.

Tree preservation orders should be enacted.

A national park should be declared to cover the majority of the development order area.

The natural vegetation covering the beach sand dunes must be protected.

The already-impaired swamp forest should not be further destroyed.

Strict observance should be made of present regulations regarding capture of fish and lobsters.

The use of beach seines (a type of fishing net) should be discontinued.

No building shall be closer than 150 feet from the high water mark.

Buildings higher than two storeys will not be permitted within the development area, except on very special consideration by the authorities.

Buildings should not be obtrusive and the architectural expression low-key.

The landward side (of the road) is to remain in its natural state and only limited development will be permitted.

In order to preserve the amenity of views to the sea on the cliffs, buildings shall be as unobtrusive as possible, one-storeyed and small-scale.

Solid fences should not exceed three feet on main road or sea frontages and should be so painted as to blend in with the landscape.

Few, if any, of these requirements have been adhered to. Where permission of the NRCA was required to remove important coastal features, it was given in many cases. Removal also proceeded illegally. The Government of Jamaica did declare the Negril Environment Protection Area, including the Negril Marine Park and the Orange Bay Fish sanctuary, but the management of these assets is clearly weak.

I skimmed the new development order. Many of the same provisions are repeated, some verbatim, as if the manifest planning and environmental management failures of the past 30 years have not occurred. Setback limits are reduced, depending on the slope and character of the land, as if sea level rise is merely a rumour. Figure 1 in Appendix 17 seems to suggest that a 10-storey hotel could now be allowed in Negril.

Negril desperately needs a period of taking stock to establish what has been irretrievably lost, what has been damaged but could be restored, what is still reasonably healthy and should now ACTUALLY be protected, not simply promised in speeches and documents. An assessment of the carrying capacity of the Negril/Green Island Area is imperative.

How much, and what kind of, development will the water supplies, sewage treatment and other critical infrastructure support? How is management of the protected area to be funded and improved? What is the status of the zoning plan for the protected area? How will this be enforced? There have been several studies of Negril (including the ones that are currently being used to justify the construction of breakwaters) that describe the many mistakes that have been made. It is high time those mistakes be rectified if Jamaica is not to lose the natural gem that Negril once was and could be again.

Diana McCaulay is CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jamentrust@cwjamaica.com.

Environmentalists and hoteliers talk to fishermen in Negril last summer about the breakwater proposal. (My photo)
Environmentalists and hoteliers talk to fishermen in Negril last summer about their relationship to the environment. (My photo)

6 thoughts on “Is Sustainable Development Even Possible in Negril?

    1. Yes, thanks are due to her and all those who are working hard and remain dedicated to the cause. You are so right, it is very valuable (in dollar terms, too!) Thank you for your comment…

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  1. As long as development decision making , whether social, economic, physical, or financial is made top-down without the local beneficiaries participation “all inclusive” no development can be sustainable. Sustainability for any area of Jamaica calls for:
    1).Understanding and respecting the local people and their environment.
    2).Use Information Communication Technology to provide subject matter knowledge in the society.
    2).Visualizing a future for Negril that a majority agree is the preferred one.
    3).Start Planning and design solution to existing problems by setting an administrative structure.

    Thereafter is professional input that requires all Jamaican Professionals to participate in fostering a sustainable development approach, (Jamaica is a signatory to a UN code) to all programs and projects being undertaken by both the GOJ and the Private Sector.
    Development orders are not Plans. They represent what is allowed and what is not allowed. They specify standards that are at time unsustainable and therefor being ignored, never mind inadequate enforcement.
    Negril’s Eco-System is extremely fragile and should be understood and managed with care and devotion.

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    1. Dear Mr. Spiro: Thank you very much for this analysis from your professional viewpoint. It is most helpful. The elements that you describe are indeed essential. I will share your comments with colleagues. What strikes me (just a general point of course) is there is no shared vision – perhaps there never was one. I guess that is your third point. Thanks so much for your comments1

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