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Patricia Green | Social inclusion critical to sustainable development

Published:Sunday | November 20, 2022 | 12:10 AM
In this September 2022 photo, a truck is stuck on Chapelton Road in Clarendon after it fell into a trench on the flooded roadway. Several roads were impossible with the passage of Tropical Storm Ian, which developed into a hurricane and made landfall in Fl
In this September 2022 photo, a truck is stuck on Chapelton Road in Clarendon after it fell into a trench on the flooded roadway. Several roads were impossible with the passage of Tropical Storm Ian, which developed into a hurricane and made landfall in Florida.

Sustainable development has been featuring prominently in the media, dominated globally by Egypt hosting the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP27. At its November 7 opening...

Sustainable development has been featuring prominently in the media, dominated globally by Egypt hosting the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP27. At its November 7 opening ceremony, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Motley said, “…we have the collective capacity to transform … but the simple political will that is necessary not just to come here and make promises, but to deliver on them, and to make a definable difference in the lives of the people who we have a responsibility to serve, seems still not to be capable of being produced … .”

The UN Sustainable Development Agenda states that it is crucial to harmonise three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection. These three “… are interconnected, and all are crucial for the well-being of individuals and societies … ”. I would argue that social inclusion is the glue that cements this statement for the well-being of the nation as we undertake sustainable development in Jamaica.

Economic growth was emphasised by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in his keynote address on October 27 at the Jamaica Developers Association ‘Real Estate Development Webinar No. 5.’ The PM stated, “… real estate and construction sector of the Jamaican economy is absolutely important to our growth and development strategy. Construction is approximately 8.2 per cent of Jamaica’s economy …”. He added, “… Government must take a pro-growth stance for development …”, and mentioned a slowing down in construction in the last quarter, with a reduction in the growth primarily because government spending has slowed in construction. Also slowing down were the number of requests for building permits and applications to the various authorities.

The PM continued, “… for several years, Government has not been very clear about development intentions … we have had a provisional development order particularly for Kingston and St Andrew, which has not been finalised …”. He promoted that the development order would give greater clarity to some of the grey and ambiguous areas in development. The Kingston and St Andrew development order will be finalised by the first week of December, the PM announced, to “… give more definition and certainty to the development space and thereby increase, which is our hope, the number of applications for development …”. Some of the areas have been challenged in court, and some “… are giving developers pause in moving ahead with their developments ...”, which the PM, cited as “… definitively resolved in our [finalised] development order…” the following: (1) whether or not developments can take place on lot sizes smaller than half an acre; (2) greater density and height; (3) which areas with greater density and height will be allowed; (4) definition of a basement.

It is important to note that the provisional development order (PDO) is governed by the 1958 Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA). Section 7(2) empowers the minister by notification published in the Gazette to “… confirm it [the 2017 PDO] with or without modification and thereupon such order … shall come into operation as a confirmed development order …”.

SOCIAL INCLUSION

Is social inclusion missing in the finalisation of the PDO? The prescribed window for any citizen inclusion is very narrow, may even be construed as obscure or absent in this pre-Independence, colonial planning law. The TCPA. Section 6(1), reads “… every interested person may object to any provisional development order upon the ground that such order is for any reason impractical or unnecessary or that it is against the interests of the economic welfare of the locality to which the provisional development order relates ...”. However, interested persons must act expeditiously because Section 6(2) states thatthey “… shall give notice in writing to the Authority within fourteen days after the expiration of the period referred to …”.

At another webinar that commemorated World Town Planning Day November 8, a National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) presentation left citizens asking if the upcoming finalised PDO would be increasing without social inclusion’existing densities in their neighbourhoods that currently are listed in the NEPA 2017 PDO. Would densities of 75 and 125 habitable rooms per hectare (30 and 50 per acre) be increasing to 250 per hectare (100 per acre)? These concerns expressed by citizens stem from governmental development approvals that have been issued solely on the basis of increased densities as contested successfully in court in the absence of requisite upgraded infrastructure to sustain density increases. Where are the green areas inside development projects to allow soil percolation instead of hard surfaces intensifying water run-off across neighbourhoods? What about public parks, multimodal transportation, sewerage, potable water, and drainage systems, among others?

CHALLENGED

Environmental protection, therefore, may seem to be challenged although Jamaica is closing the 2022 Hurricane season without landfalls. Consider the impact of a two-hour afternoon shower resulting in severe flooding in Kingston on November 13. Social media buzzed afterwards – Chelsea Avenue impassable, with a motorist taking refuge on the top of his vehicle; Medical Associates Hospital flooded for the first time; torrents gushing into the basement of a newly constructed apartment building, with this development being suggested as the cause of that new flooding phenomenon.

I consulted some eminent senior engineers. They said that the drainage is most likely inadequate to handle flash floods. Hence, when the rain eased or slowed, was there rapid runoff? For questions on the structural integrity of any building after basement flooding, the engineers suggested that if properly designed, structurally, there should be no major issue in the short term, especially if the building is located on the Liguanea Plains deposits; however, what is clear is that there would be a drainage problem that needs immediate solution as sustained and frequent flooding over time will quite likely create structural issues in any such building.

PM Motley underscored at COP27, “… what will our choice be? We have the power to act or the power to remain passive and do nothing … the things that are facing us today are all interconnected … our people on this Earth deserve better …”. I recall that my November 7, 2021, column - ‘Climate change and disaster resilience architecture hope’ - affirmed that when citizens feel ownership of the development process, they sustain it. Also, in my October 2 column ‘Stop blaming climate change for flooding’ questions were raised whether any possible planning and development negligence may be increasing intense flooding.

As she closed, PM Motley implored, “… and what is more, our leaders know better … . I ask the people of the world and not just the leaders, therefore, to hold us accountable and to ask us to act in your name to save this Earth, to save the people of this Earth. The choice is ours. What will you do? What will you chose to save?…”.

Patricia Green, PhD, a registered architect and conservationist, is an independent scholar and advocate for the built and natural environment. Send feedback to patgreen2008@gmail.com.