The town and country planning framework in Jamaica was adapted from the British town and country planning system. The Town and Country Planning Act, (law 42 of 1957) (operational date February 1, 1958) Jamaica would have been promulgated in the period pre-independence. The machinery of ordering and establishing towns would have the distinct flavour of the Westminster system. I agree with those who argue that until there is a reform of the Jamaican constitution then laws such as these may not change in real material terms. In Jamaica the last official substantial amendments were made to the Town and Country Planning Act in 1999 to provide for effective enforcement (McCalla, 20102). However I further postulate that the governance framework for land development in Jamaica must have newly crafted laws, laws which are more representative of the current development situation which obtains in Jamaica.
Town and Country Planning Authority vs Local Planning Authorities
Section 3 of the TCPA states, for the purposes of this Act the Minister shall appoint a person or persons to be the Town and Country Town and Country Planning Authority, and subject to the provisions of this Act, Planning Authority and from time to time by order published in the Gazette define the composition, powers and duties of such Authority. One of the definite roles of the TCP Authority is the production of Development Orders. In regards to adoptation and implementation of the clauses outlined in these orders the TCP Act clearly establishes some operational parameters as below.
Subject to the provisions of section 11 and section 12 of the TCP Act, where application is made to a local planning to develop land, that authority may grant permission either unconditionally or subject to such conditions as they think fit, or may refuse permission; and in dealing with any such application the local planning authority shall have regard to the provisions of the development order so far as material thereto, and to any other material considerations.
Sec. 11-3 states that provision may be made by a development order for regulating the manner in which applications for permission to develop land are to be dealt with by local planning authorities.
Sec 12-1 further states that the TCP Authority may give directions to any local planning authority or, to local planning authorities generally requiring that any application for permission to develop land, or all such applications of any class specified in the directions, shall be referred to the Authority instead of being dealt with by the local planning authority, and any such application shall be so referred accordingly.
However there are some ambiguities as to the real authority for “town planning.” For example section 114 of the Parish Council Act, 1901 (last amended 2007) confers the power to the Parish Council to define the limits of towns, etc. Note that this statute is older than the TCPAct. The Local Government system in Jamaica is in fact the oldest form of governance on the island. However until recently this layer was not recognized in the Constitution. One explanation for this interrelated to the political history of the local government system in Jamaica; a system synonymous with the struggles for independence, adult suffrage, etc and is seen as something belonging to the grassroots
To adopt or not
A review of the history of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947 of the United Kingdom revealed that revisions of the Act were legislated in 1962, 1971 and 1990. Also whilst the 1990 Act is the current legislation, this Act has been substantially amended and added to, especially in 1991, 2004, 2008 and 2011). Most interesting though was the way the Act outlined the operationalization of the planning system in the UK. Specifically, the Act established that planning permission was required for land development; ownership alone no longer conferred the right to develop the land. To control this, the Act reorganised the planning system from the 1,400 existing planning authorities to 145 (formed from county and borough councils), and required them all to prepare a comprehensive development plan.
I posit that the beginnings of urban (town planning) in Jamaica was therefore never seen as a main function of the local authority. The role was inadvertently assumed by a central machinery such as the Town and Country Planning Authority and the Urban Development Corporation for example. These were entities deemed highly evolved in their approach to the modernization of the Jamaican landscape.
At best the paradigm shift from a top- down approach to the bottom-up approach should result in a wholehearted embrace of the idea that the local authorities should be constitutionally recognized as having the authority to prepare comprehensive plans. These plans need not be in alignment with a development order, which are static documents, rather they can be dynamic and localized forward thinking strategies aimed at steering the local area into a sustainable future.