All Relevant Planning and Environmental Agencies Knew About the Royalton Breaches, As Did the Political Directorate

The collapse of a section of the Blue Diamond Royalton Hotel in Negril in the early hours of yesterday morning raises many issues and a multitude of questions. Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie has told the Hanover Parish Council to issue a 30-day stop order on the project. A three-man team of officials is investigating the incident (and I hope all the circumstances surrounding it). The Jamaica Fire Brigade Emergency Medical Services (EMS) rescued five workers from the rubble. Three remain in hospital, one with a serious eye injury, Daryl Vaz, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation reported yesterday. They were working overnight and pouring concrete when the accident happened; I hear the developers are in a hurry to complete the planned 600-room building, which is triple the size of the old, much-loved Grand Lido, a small hotel of 210 rooms (which has been demolished). The contractor is from the Dominican Republic, and so are some of the workers.

Minister Vaz was among several Government officials who rushed down to Negril, including the Members of Parliament, Ian Hayles (Western Hanover) and Wykeham McNeill (Western Westmoreland). President of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, Lee Issa, has called for a speedy investigation and full disclosure of the circumstances of the collapse.

So, everyone is running round in circles calling for reports and investigations. The lives of three workers and their families are thrown into chaos; I hope they are getting the best medical treatment and will not suffer for the rest of their lives. But the fact remains – as Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has repeatedly noted – that these overseas developers have been allowed to continue this building while in breach of environmental laws, and despite a stop order and several warning notices issued by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

I ask this question of our political directorate, past and current (but especially current): Is it “development at all costs”? Why do we allow overseas investors in our tourism sector to flout local laws?  Certainly, Blue Diamond Royalton are not the first offenders in this regard. This is a pattern of behavior.  If we are going to remove bureaucratic obstacles to future investments to speed up growth, as the new administration has indicated – what about environmental and planning laws and regulations that are already on the books? We have now seen the cost of “turning a blind eye.”

JET just issued this statement, including their press release of April 6 on the Royalton Hotel developments in Negril and in Trelawny, which I posted here: https://petchary.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/both-royalton-hotels-in-breach-of-their-environmental-permits-jet-calls-on-new-environmental-minister-to-take-strong-enforcement-action/ 

Was anybody listening?

For immediate release

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016
Kingston, Jamaica

ALL RELEVANT PLANNING AND ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES KNEW ABOUT THE ROYALTON BREACHES, AS DID THE POLITICAL DIRECTORATE
On April 5, 2016, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) sent out a press release with regard to the many breaches of environmental and planning laws by both Royalton Hotels, one in Negril and the other in Trelawny. That release is below. It did not receive much media play, but from the research JET did using the Access to Information Act, the breaches had been reported both to and by the National Environment and Planning Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, the Hanover Parish Council, the Negril/Green Island Planning Authority, and to the former and current political directorate. All the relevant government agencies, elected officials and ministers of government knew, or should have known, about this situation. The pro development rhetoric which suggests that laws and regulations are obstacles to economic prosperity has continued under the new JLP administration, but the Royalton collapse is an example of what reckless disregard of regulation leads to. We can only repeat our call made on April 5 for the Prime Minister, now the portfolio minister for the environment, to take immediate steps to enforce Jamaica’s environmental laws in this and all other cases of non compliance.
Jamaica Environment Trust
Diana McCaulay, CEO, 469-1315
Nastassia Robinson, Legal Officer, 836-9909
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
JET has the underlying monitoring reports from NEPA but they are large files, so please either visit our office (123 Constant Spring Road, Kingston 8) to review or request a Dropbox copy if you need them.

For Immediate Release
April 5th, 2016
Kingston, Jamaica

BOTH ROYALTON HOTELS IN BREACH OF THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL PERMITS, JET CALLS ON NEW ENVIRONMENTAL MINISTER TO TAKE STRONG ENFORCEMENT ACTION

Having received reports of concerns about the construction and renovation of both Royalton Hotels (one in Trelawny at Coopers Pen, the other in Negril on the old Grand Lido site) the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) used the Access to Information Act to request the monitoring reports done by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) between June 2015 and February 2016 for both hotels. These reports revealed an unacceptably low level of compliance with environmental permits – in the case of Negril, less than 35% of the conditions were adhered to. The Negril breaches concerned failures to submit a raft of plans – of 11 required plans, nine had not been submitted, although construction was well underway. Additionally, construction was not even in compliance with the two plans that were submitted, and there was failure to properly contain sewage effluent and other types of run off and materials, and failure to conduct water quality monitoring. JET reminds the public that last year, construction on the Royalton Hotel in Negril started without the required approval from the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and therefore received a Cessation Order from NEPA in November 2015. NEPA has since issued at least two warning notices to this hotel, but the breaches remained unaddressed up to January 2016.

In the case of the Royalton hotel in Trelawny, a similar pattern was seen of failure to submit required plans and reports, most significantly concerning the operation of the sewage treatment plant and construction of towers in breach of the specified height. NEPA had issued at least six warning notices to the Trelawny Royalton hotel, which were essentially ignored. Breaches identified by NEPA enforcement personnel in October 2015 continued to be unaddressed in February 2016.

JET understands that this matter is to go before the new NRCA Board at its first meeting in April.

“It is hard to understand how an overseas investor has operated and continues to operate with such flagrant disregard of Jamaica’s environmental laws,” said JET’s CEO, Diana McCaulay. “What is NEPA’s role and function? What is the point of issuing environmental permits and licenses if they are not going to be enforced?”

JET calls on the Prime Minister, now the portfolio minister for the environment, to take immediate steps to enforce Jamaica’s environmental laws in this and all other cases of non compliance.

Contact:
Diana McCaulay, CEO, JET
469-1315

Nastassia Robinson, Legal Officer, JET
836-9909

Men search under the collapsed building at the Blue Diamond Royalton Hotel yesterday. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Men search under the collapsed building at the Blue Diamond Royalton Hotel in Negril yesterday. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

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