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COLUMNS BY JOHN MAXWELL :
THE BATTLE OF HOPE GARDENS

 

The Battle of Hope Gardens
By John Maxwell

Patterson objects
Douglas forges ahead
White men, white rum
The Squatter's query

 

Hope Gardens is a very desirable address. Perhaps, after King’s House, Jamaica House and Vale Royal, it must be the most desirable address in all Jamaica.

It has been so desirable that for many years, government departments have muscled their way into the gardens, simply by redefining Hope Gardens to their own purposes. They have redefined the gardens to a small sliver of land of about 30 acres - half the size it was in the seventies and a fraction of its true extent.

About 200 acres of Hope Estate were bought by the government in 1881 for an experimental garden and experimental agricultural station. In 1946, the Handbook of Jamaica gave the size of the gardens as “about 150 acres” consisting of extensive lawns with ornamental flower beds, ornamental borders, water garden, sunken garden, plant-houses, orchid house and aquarium, a small aviary and a bandstand and tea garden. But the domain of the Superintendent of Public Gardens extended over a much wider area, nearer 600 acres, including the Hope Agricultural Station lands all of which were considered part of Hope Gardens in 1971 and have not been transferred to any other entity, as far as can be ascertained. The Hope Agricultural Station has historical significance: It was the birthplace of the famous Jamaica Hope, Jamaica Black and Jamaica Red breeds of cattle.

In many ways the real extent of Hope Gardens is immaterial. The Hope Gardens Estate is the last largish piece of publicly-owned green space in Kingston and is protected as such, in the Kingston Development Order of 1966.

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PATTERSON OBJECTS
In 1991, on October 1, P. J. Patterson, then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Planning, wrote to the Minister of Health, Easton Douglas: The Town Planning Department. Patterson said, had objected to a proposal by the Ministry of Health to put a nursing school on 11 acres of Hope Gardens Estate. Patterson pointed out that the area was zoned for recreational use and that concern had ”been repeatedly expressed about the infiltration of non-recreational uses in the Hope Gardens Estate..”

”Consequently, the decision was taken that there should be no further subdivision of the areas, particularly those lands adjacent to the gardens and its recreational zoning must be maintained. …It is indeed a national asset which must be maintained. The population growth, … dictates that lands in juxtaposition to the Gardens be retained for future expansion programmes…

“The recently established Hope Zoo Development Task Force has formulated a plan to expand and improve the facilities in Hope Gardens Estate which will be developed as a major recreational attraction.”

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DOUGLAS FORGES AHEAD
Fast forward to November 25, 1999. The NRCA has ordered the developers of “Hope Country Club” to present their proposals for the latest redefinition of Hope Gardens, a joint venture sponsored by the Minister of Housing – a corporation sole by the name of Easton Douglas, the same Easton Douglas who Mr Patterson wrote in 1991.

The presentation is at Jamaica College auditorium, once part of the old Hope-Elletson estate. The lead developer, Mr Robert Cartade explains that the Country Club was conceived in 1990/91 and a contract for sale was drawn up to be signed with the Commissioner of Lands, one James Monroe. According to Mr Cartade, Mr Monroe unfortunately ‘departed from office’ before the deed was done. It is strange to reflect that this activity was happening while Mr Patterson’s letter was still warm, so to speak, before the ink was dry.

The project was revised from 250 houses to 241, but nothing much changed except that Mr Cartade’s company now had a joint venture partner, the Minister of Housing. Earlier this month, the Minister declared the area to be a Housing Area, under a law which permits the Minister to determine the need for housing in any area and to declare selected areas to be housing area. The law was not designed to find houses for the rich.

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WHITE MEN, WHITE RUM
At the presentation on Thursday, dozens of squatters from an adjoining community were brought in, summoned, some of them said, “by two white men” who offered rum and money. The squatters came to hear that the development was really in their interest and, to judge by the presentation, the superior (“Selective”) homes were practically an afterthought. Various ‘heavies’ supporting the scheme, were on hand, including Robert Stevenson, a PNP apparatchik who flew into a hysterical frenzy when I demanded that he declare his interest.

People from Hope Pastures objected to the scheme on several grounds, one being that the NWC which has been unable to supply them with a decent supply for more than a decade, says it will have no problem supplying the new residents of the Country Club. Other objections dealt with sewerage, twice as much of which was expected as the amount of water supplied, suggesting that the country club will, somehow generate an exportable surplus of excrement. There were, of course, various apologists, including one Colin Geddes, who suggested that the objections were class-biased, echoing Winston “Ben” Monroe a former communist now under investigation for his part in the Low Income Family Foundation debacle.

The atmosphere was inhospitable to dissenters at first, with the crowd firmly on the side of capitalism and Colin Campbell, their MP, who was absent but to whom their votes were dedicated. As the evening wore on, however, squatters sitting beside me began to question the bona fides of the scheme and why they had been led to attend.

Their confidence in the developers was further tested when environmental economist Dr. Mark Figueroa asked why the Environmental Impact Assessment, which was full of defects, did not address the question of option values; why the houses were not to be auctioned, to give the enormous anticipated capital gains to the government rather than to insiders. The unearned increment could then go to the poor people’s housing. This point was amplified by Lascelles Dixon, a prominent architect, who asked if, since the scheme was supposedly for the benefit of poor people, why the government didn’t propose instead an Operation Pride project. Wild applause from the squatters.. Dixon argued that the issue was not about definitions of Hope Gardens, but about public open space, for popular recreation.

Cowell Lyn, a well known environmentalist and engineer, raised inter alia, questions about the disposal of sewage effluent, which was proposed for the irrigation of the gardens, a dangerous procedure, he thought. Norman Richards, superintendent of Hope Botanical Gardens and Rheema Kerr, Curator of the Zoo, spoke simply and eloquently about the potential frustrations of their plans for the entertainment and education of Kingston’s and Jamaica’s children and adults. Their plans would be blasted by the development. Oddly enough, the EIA did not mention these plans, nor did it mention the Development Order.

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THE SQUATTER'S QUERY

I also put in my two cents worth, arguing like most of the dissenters, for the recognition that Kingston was starved of open space, and that we needed to stop making our cities breeding grounds for dysfunctional people. Rose Campbell echoed the views of many when she said that the project was a moving target – the project dimensions seemed to change depending on Mr Cartade’s audience.

It was a squatter, Steve Wright, who asked the unanswerable question: “If you want to help us, as you claim, why are your giving us 30 days to leave?”

Outside the hall it became apparent that the imported crowd of squatters felt taken advantage of, as did many of the rest of us. What was clear was that by tomorrow afternoon, Mr Easton Douglas will have received several objections to his scheme, and by Christmas Day, the NRCA will have received many more. And, as I told Mr Cartade, some us are ready to go to court to stop this odious scheme to create a new millionaires club in the midst of a garden meant for the relief of depression, oppression, anomie, alienation and crime, and for the furtherance of the public health, welfare and leisure, ease and enjoyment.

WE CAN’T ALL AFFORD NEGRIL

And the Issa family of which Mr Cartade is a member, own acres of prime land, sitting idle in places like the Golden Triangle, where one five acre estate, for example, pays the same tax as my taxi-driver friend, Tony Williams, pays on the tiny plot he occupies in Grant’s Pen.

Copyright © 1999 by John Maxwell

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LINKS
Photo of Proposed Site (800x600) |
1966 Survey Map | Objection sent to the Minister of Housing and Development | Rebuttal of Estech's EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) | Objection made to NRCA (Natural Resources Conservation Authority) | Common Sense: Where will the children play? | Common Sense: The battle of Hope Gardens | Common Sense: An offer they couldn't refuse | Common Sense: No mek dem tek it! | Common Sense: Hoping against Hope | Common Sense: Transparency and Hope | News: The Struggle Continues | Press Release from Birdlife of Jamaica | Memo from Mona Heights Citizens' Association | Letter from Stuart Lacy of WildLife Jamaica | Letter from Gloria Escoffery | Letter from Daphne & Peter Abrahams | Satire by 'Cher' | An Opposing Viewpoint from The Gleaner | Protest Letters | The Principals | Add your $0.02