DEVON HOUSE CAUTION

Opposition
spokesperson on the environment, Senator Sophia Fraser Binns, has joined the queue of reactions to the renovation of the historic Devon House property in St Andrew, cautioning against any redesign which ignores the importance of preserving the country’s green spaces in the face of climate change.

“The Opposition welcomes any attempt to modernise our infrastructure, or our sites, as we see at Devon House. However, it can’t be at the detriment of the environment. We know that Kingston is set to experience climate departure next year…we know climate change is real and consequent upon that, it behoves all of us as leaders, civil society, government, government department and ministries to ensure that everything we do is towards reducing the effects of climate change. We understand the importance that trees play, so we are very surprised and disappointed that, in modernising Devon House, that the effort and emphasis that ought to have been placed on the green space was not done, or it appears as if it was not done,” Fraser Binns told the Jamaica
Observer on Christmas Day.

She stressed that avenues must be found to strike that balance between the environment and development “because we can’t have real development unless it is sustainable and unless there is due consideration given to the environment”.

Senior communications strategist for the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) Delano Seiveright told the Observer on that “all is good” in regards to the status of Devon House as a heritage site, notwithstanding the new configuration. He stressed that the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) was fully involved in the process.

Amidst strong public sentiments against what appears to be the hardscaping of Devon House, the TEF issued a statement late last week outlining that the renovations to the courtyard of the property, which started in March and isn’t yet completed, had taken into account safety, movement of patrons including the disabled, drainage, and general functionality in the reconfiguration of the site.

Devon House was declared a national monument in 1990 by the JNHT under the instructions of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, during his tenure as minister of development.

Seiveright explained in the statement that the TEF had suspended work on the property to allow the public to use the facility for the Christmas season.

“The completed space will consist of more plants to ensure that the public can continue to enjoy the oasis in the middle of the city while they shop and enjoy the gastronomy delights of Devon House, including the world-famous Devon House I-Scream. Furthermore, we assure the public that the area will appear lusher after the trees are allowed to mature, the shrubs are planted, and the vines begin to grow on the pergolas,” the TEF said.

He stressed that only a poinciana tree was removed after a review by the Forestry Department, which recommended its removal for public safety. Social media posters have blasted the renovations, referring to it as a transformation of the green site into a “concrete jungle”, and desecration of one of the last few public green spaces left in the Corporate Area.The TEF advised that it was “ultimately better to err on the side of caution by replacing the old tree with a young sapling that can be trained to conform to contextually acceptable standards of safety.” We, therefore, followed this advice and planted a young lignum vitae tree in its place. Additionally, with the removal of the poinciana tree, six other trees have been planted, including a blue mahoe, lignum vitae, as well as assorted plants and shrubs”.Seiveright noted that with the increase in visitors to Devon House, the number of seats in the area was inadequate, limiting the ability of patrons to sit and enjoy the atmosphere and ambience of the courtyard, and that the previous design posed challenges regarding the movement of patrons within the area.

He said the design process took three years and adhered to all necessary protocols, including land survey of the area, and designs approved by the JNHT and the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC). The project is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2023.

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