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Thursday, 26 October 2017 12:11

Old Harbour group lashes Heritage Trust over ‘heavy-handed’ approach| Claim they were ‘kicked off’ Colbeck Castle

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Then Chairman of the Old Harbour Development Area Committee (OHDAC) Randy Finnikin (right) and Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) Legal Officer Kadene Campbell shake hands after completing the formalities during the official signing of the Colbeck Castle Lease Agreement at Colbeck, Old Harbour on January 30, 2015. Then Chairman of the Old Harbour Development Area Committee (OHDAC) Randy Finnikin (right) and Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) Legal Officer Kadene Campbell shake hands after completing the formalities during the official signing of the Colbeck Castle Lease Agreement at Colbeck, Old Harbour on January 30, 2015. Photo: Old Harbour News

Civic group the Old Harbour Development Area Committee (OHDAC) has strongly criticized the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) after the state agency terminated its lease agreement regarding the management and development of the historic Colbeck Castle.

In an October 18, 2017 letter to its stakeholders, former chairman and current chief project officer of the Colbeck Castle Heritage Park Project Randy Finnikin, says the JNHT was motivated by “the money” once state housing agency, the National Housing Trust (NHT) signaled its intention to construct the Villages of Colbeck housing development.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness broke ground in July at the more than 300 year-old site where an estimated 2,000 new homes and two institutions of learning will be built along with other amenities such as a recreational park and commercial offices.

In his 12-point communiqué, Finnikin argued that while the JNHT – owners of all declared heritage sites on the island – “reserves the right to do what they want” with Colbeck Castle, the state body showed “scant regard” towards the OHDAC with whom they had entered into a 15-year lease agreement effective January 2015.

In that contract signed on January 30, 2015 by both parties was a one-year provisional lease for the first year, with the option for an extension once certain obligations are achieved by the OHDAC during first 12 months.

At the end of year one the OHDAC received a six months lease extension, ending June 30, 2016, Finnikin reports, with the Trust requesting of them to “complete one building drawing deemed necessary” before a further extension is granted.

But an extension has not been forthcoming despite OHDAC demonstrating the willingness to develop the site and transform the wider Old Harbour area that would generate direct income for the country.

In OHDAC’s view a clandestine operation has been hatched to get them off the land, with the riches of the NHT waiting in the shadows.

a digital layout of what would be the Colbeck Castle Heritage Park and Gardens (Photo: OH News)

“OHDAC started receiving unofficial messages from JNHT personnel (via caretaker at the castle) demanding that we pay caretaker which was being done by the JNHT prior,” Finnikin said.

“A meeting was sought by OHDAC following the expiration of the provisional lease to advance discussions to secure the lease in order to proceed with pending negotiations and plans.

“A meeting was convened at the JNHT in November 2016. OHDAC was advised that due to the change of government, a new board was being installed and they would have to be briefed on the collaboration, so we are to resubmit our proposal. We protested that there is no need for that given they already have same which is the basis of the lease. The meeting agreed that a project update would suffice and that was submitted within two weeks of that meeting.

“OHDAC received email on May 17, 2017 in response to November 2016 meeting, advising that they will get back to us about the lease. However, JNHT was evoking right of ownership effective June 1, 2017.”

In effect, the JNHT has retaken the day-to-day management of the castle without giving any reason, Finnikin opines, noting that this all happened a month the grand groundbreaking ceremony for the $5.4 billion Villages of Colbeck development.

“You may have noticed our (OHDAC's) deafening silence over the past months on plans for the CCHPP. We have been silenced by a" knockout" or "kick out punch" by the Heritage Trust from the site effective June 1, 2017,” said Finnikin. “Since then we have sought justification for their decision and have received none,” he continued.

“OHDAC responded by letter seeking clarification of email given that ownership was never an issue. There was no response

“During this time personnel from the Trust continue to poison the relationship with OHDAC, the Trust and the caretaker, unofficial messages continued to include instructions for us to retrieve OHDAC’s lawn mowing equipment only.”

He added: “Then the NHT groundbreaking ceremony invitation - note we weren’t contacted by our partner the JNHT about this. All other times before when a request for use of the castle was made of the Trust, they would refer enquirers to OHDAC- whether for a tour or the filming of a movie etc. not this time. I believe for the reason I stated above - the smell of NHT money.

“OHDAC planned a protest to coincide with the groundbreaking ceremony to bring attention to the heavy handed and dissatisfactory approach by the JHNT and others including the Minister of Culture who has not responded to three letters sent to her, also to the Prime Minister.

“NHT asked us not to protest because they are not in conflict with us or vice versa and they will seek to convene discussions with the JNHT and us.

“JNHT convened meeting with OHDAC at their offices to reiterate that OHDAC has no lease because they are considering other options. Asked why is that? They responded (saying) ‘due to dissatisfaction with our management of the place’. Asked how we have never received correspondence to the effect? The response was ‘no correspondence meant dissatisfaction’.

Asked about their plans, they replied ‘they don’t have one at the moment.

“Incredible! But OHDAC who has a plan was booted.

In concluding Finnikin said: “Don’t get me wrong. I believe the JHNT reserves the right to do what they want, which must be in the best interest of preserving the site and showcasing same to our people and others.

“What I detest and vehemently oppose is their approach, which is heavy handed and show scant regard for the principles of good governance, formality, ethics and conduct reflecting an agency of government. Their disrespect to OHDAC and by extension the people of Old Harbour must not be tolerated and those agents of the state must be enlightened about what is acceptable in communication, relationship and partnership building.”

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