Sun | Nov 28, 2021

Neglected Lucea ‘left for dead’

Stakeholders growing weary that western ‘drive-through’ town can be resurrected

Published:Sunday | October 17, 2021 | 12:05 AMMark Titus - Sunday Gleaner Writer
Photos by Mark Titus 
Stakeholders have been calling for a Lucea bypass to ease the Hanover capital’s long-standing traffic congestion, a major headache in the seaport town.
Photos by Mark Titus Stakeholders have been calling for a Lucea bypass to ease the Hanover capital’s long-standing traffic congestion, a major headache in the seaport town.
A man fishing by Fort Charlotte in Lucea, Hanover, last week.
A man fishing by Fort Charlotte in Lucea, Hanover, last week.
The museum in Lucea, Hanover, is now occupied by the military.
The museum in Lucea, Hanover, is now occupied by the military.
The Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort and Spa is a major employer of residents of Lucea in Hanover.
The Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort and Spa is a major employer of residents of Lucea in Hanover.
Lucea’s Fort Charlotte is used for recreation by some residents.
Lucea’s Fort Charlotte is used for recreation by some residents.
Lucea’s Fort Charlotte.
Lucea’s Fort Charlotte.
File 
Hanover Custos Dr David Stair.
File Hanover Custos Dr David Stair.
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Hanover Custos Dr David Stair still fondly recalls the days when the parish capital Lucea was the envy of other destinations.

Back then, Hanover had a vibrant agricultural sector, with Lucea becoming a booming commercial centre and important export point for banana and molasses, but the antiquated Georgian town has since been falling into decay.

“I remember when I went to high school in Kingston in the 1960s, I was so proud of Lucea that I used to beat my chest and boast how Lucea is the cleanest town in Jamaica,” Stair told The Sunday Gleaner. “Now, a town with this priceless history has been devalued and left for dead.

“I really don’t think that there is anything that can be planned that hasn’t already been discussed and put on paper,” the custos said. “The problem is getting things implemented, and I really think that is a problem of leadership.”

Tucked between Montego Bay and Negril, two of the Western Hemisphere’s most popular tourist resort areas, Lucea has failed to attract meaningful investment or development.

Although Lucea boasts a priceless collection of historical sites dating back to the 1700s, it sees little to no tourism activity, despite Hanover being home to some of the world’s leading hotel accommodations.

“I would invest in a tourism-oriented business if the hotels were promoting Lucea,” Lucea resident and retired educator Wendy Sappleton told The Sunday Gleaner. “But nothing is organised and, despite our history, there is currently no serious tourism business here.”

Sappleton is unmoved by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett’s announcement, at the 85th annual general meeting and convention of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association in 2019, that her town is to be transformed as a tourism destination.

“I have heard it at every sectoral debate and during the craziness of political elections for at least the past 25 years, and it has never happened,” she said. “Even if it is genuine, a plan to transform the town for tourism – even though just talk at this time – says a lot about the kind of leadership dealing with our affairs.”

The custos has campaigned for many years for the Government to recognise Lucea’s tourism potential but, with his concerns gone unheeded, Stair is now hoping that even basic infrastructural upgrades, including a bypass to alleviate traffic woes in the town, will become a reality.

“Right now, getting through Lucea on an average morning is a chore,” he said.

“If and when they put in a bypass, they might yet find that Lucea might fade into obscurity because there’s really nothing there. With all that history, the town is lying idle,” Stair, however, acknowledged.

He said that a centralised sewage system for the town is a “long overdue” necessity and the answer to the Hanover capital’s drainage issues. With the town at or below sea level, he stressed that building approvals should be granted with that in mind.

“That is why the place is smelling so bad, because the town is at or below sea level and no provision has been made to address these issues,” Stair lamented. “I can’t understand how we can have officials who are paid to make sure that things happen and garbage is collected, the drains are clean, the infrastructure is kept up … . They drive on the poor roads almost every day, yet nothing is happening.”

Hanover Western Member of Parliament (MP) Tamika Davis acknowledges that there are myriad challenges hobbling Lucea, but appealed for patience, confident that her all-inclusive approach will bear fruit.

“Perhaps it is because I am from Hanover and I have lived it, and I know that, as an adult, I should not be in the same position as a child,” said Davis, a first-time MP with just a year under her belt. “But we have not had that level of development for change, and the worst thing is that people don’t take us seriously. No one stops there … . They see us as the drive-through town.”

Davis refused to be drawn into discussing the political wrangling of the past and its impact on Lucea’s development or the investigations of public officials and their alleged mismanagement of public funds, but instead expressed a willingness to work with everyone selected to represent the people’s interest.

According to Social Development Commission’s 2018 community profile, Lucea has an estimated population of 13,406 individuals occupying 3,943 households.

Full-time employment accounts for 53.3 per cent of the employed 61.4 per cent of Lucea residents. Males were more likely to be self-employed than females (15.6 and 12.8 per cent, respectively). Part-time employment accounted for 9.3 per cent of the employed and contractual employment stood at 7.1 per cent.

The commercial community is dominated by outsiders who have not been gung-ho about the seaside town’s development, but Gare Whittaker, president of the struggling Hanover Chamber of Commerce, believes the work needed to fix Lucea is doable.

“The people of Hanover are not necessarily uniting behind a voice to say that is what we want for the parish, but the issues plaguing Lucea can be fixed,” he said. “When I was selected as head of the chamber, I realised that it was more people trying to rid themselves of the responsibility, and I guess I was the one that seemed to have the least to do at the time.”

mark.titus@gleanerjm.com