Responding to criticisms by government minister Dary Vaz that his opposition to the project proposed by government smacks of ‘bad mind’ as he does not want his constituents to benefit from the proposed development, In a statement today, Jackson said his involvement in the project was publicly declared and subject to all the required Parliamentary approvals.
The release pointed out that Mr. Jackson's opposition to removing large portions of the Bernard Lodge farmlands to be placed into housing and commercial development dates back three years ago when the Government’s intention became known. This is in keeping with opinions from senior planners, water resource experts, including the former Managing Director of the Water Resources Authority.
The statement said “Celestial Farms, of which Mr. Jackson is a director, sought from SCJ twenty acres of land for agricultural activities. Initially, SCJ identified an area that falls within his South St Catherine constituency. This, Mr. Jackson rejected, in keeping with his longstanding position not to contract with Government for any commercial activity within the constituency he represents.”
An alternate offer was made by SCJ for lands in Innswood, which the company accepted, but this was later withdrawn by SCJ on the grounds that those lands would be affected by another development project. SCJ Holdings then proposed farm lands in Bernard Lodge, outside of his constituency and the proposed Bernard Lodge new town development. In keeping with his knowledge that the Bernard Lodge area is prime agricultural lands, the company accepted the new proposed location.”
Mr. Jackson said that he sought and obtained the required exemptions from Parliament and he ensured that all the transactions were above board.
“I have been defending the small farmers and their right to remain on the lands for some time. I will continue to argue for the farmers who are there and push to keep our best arable lands in agriculture. This responsibility to the affected persons I will not resile from”.
“What is important is that the best farmlands remain in agricultural production. This is what I have been arguing and this is what I stand for.” Mr. Jackson said.
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.
He said it is not surprising that this issue is being used to distract from the hardships unleashed on the Jamaican people by the government focused on optics.
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 a news conference last Friday, Vaz said 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.
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.
- Countries: Jamaica