Editorial | Central Kingston plan worth considering
Knowing the equanimity with which Ronald Thwaites usually attends any matter, we assume that there was contrived outrage in his response to the first - even if a bit ungainly - step by the National Housing Trust (NHT) towards allocating huge resources to urban-renewal projects, along the lines long championed by this newspaper.
Yet, Mr Thwaites may have already achieved part of his aim. By talking loudly, he has demonstrated to those of the Central Kingston constituents who may have been spooked by the NHT's initial foray that he has their back. That is important for a politician. Further, Mr Thwaites is likely to be concerned that his riding could, depending on the geography of the plan, be denuded of critical votes, and so is sounding an early rattle.
Mr Thwaites' constituency includes some of Kingston's old residential communities such as Allman Town, Campbell Town, and Kingston Gardens, which, over several generations, have grown hard and gritty. In too many instances, as Mr Thwaites is aware, people live in overcrowded tenements, contributing to an environment that facilitates antisocial behaviour.
Indeed, in many Central Kingston communities, unemployment is high, as is crime.
A good thing about many of these neighbourhoods, though, as we have been pointing out for several years, is that they possess basic infrastructure. Roads exist, though badly maintained and mostly deeply rutted. There is water, although the mains are old and leaky. In some instances, there are semblances of sewer systems. Much of the housing stock is reasonably sound.
This newspaper has long felt that communities like these - they exist all round the capital and elsewhere - should be among the early targets for redevelopment, rather than the concentration of green-field projects that appear the preoccupation. For instance, in 2010, when the former Golding administration floated the idea of relocating the army headquarters at Up Park Camp, to free its 200 acres for housing and commercial development, we countered with a proposal to regenerate communities such as Allman Town, Rollington Town, and Vineyard Town.
More recently, in the midst of the debate over a proposal for a Chinese firm to construct a new Parliament and other public buildings at National Heroes Circle, we insisted that any such plan must be linked to the redevelopment of the adjacent communities - Allman Town, Campbell Town, Kingston Gardens - creatively using the billions of dollars in underleveraged capital built up in the NHT.
It now transpires that the NHT has been writing to property owners in some of those communities, telling them of a proposed urban renewal project that will require acquisition of property and asking them to facilitate valuators. We concede that these letters are a bit close to the bone, lacking in the warmth of a professional communicator introducing a project.
But even at that, it is a far stretch for Mr Thwaites to interpret these letters as messages of "I am going to be evicted", without the offer of an option. That, as the MP, he is in touch with the NHT is understandable. That he has asked the Trust to withdraw the letters is overreach. Indeed, there is no unfettered ability of the Government to relieve people of their property, even with the invoking of the concept of eminent domain, or the Local Improvements (Communities Amenities) Act.
The burden of Mr Thwaites' concentration should be working with his constituents and the NHT to devise models of public-private partnership, including, where warranted, the conversion of real estate to equity, or other equitable schemes, to secure homes for residents who are willing to pay.