Prime Minister Andrew Holness says there is no intention to lock down Vale Royal or have the property sold or developed into apartments.
“It is utter nonsense,” Holness declared during Tuesday’s sitting of the House of Representatives while answering questions posed by Opposition member Julian Robinson after social media chatter on the matter.
He said that even though the Government intends to preserve and protect the more-than-300-year-old property which has been recognised and treated as a national monument since 1958 but is now showing signs of disrepair, current resources would not allow for its immediate renovation.
“The Government has been very cautious about treating with this national asset because, whichever way you turn, you will be criticised. If we spend resources on it, the same persons who are asking questions now will ask why are you spending resources on it; and if you don’t spend on it, the same people ask why are you not spending on it. We have been very careful because we could not make that a priority expenditure at this time,” he explained.
Holness said that this year, the Administration has started looking at the provisions that should be made in the upcoming budget to increase the allocations to maintain the property, “not to do anything dramatic, because we have to be careful how we make such allocations, but certainly to make allocations sufficient to preserve and protect this national asset”.
He said an assessment and proposal have been done for the restoration of the building and the Government is now reviewing the cost.
Holness said that while the current facilities and structure at Vale Royal are not suitable for the purpose of being the official residence of the prime minister, it will continue to facilitate, where possible, protocol and other activities related to the Office of the Prime Minister.
In the meantime, Holness said he is currently reviewing options presented to him by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) for Vale Royal’s immediate and future use.
The JNHT, he said, has proposed that the house and property could be repurposed to include a library and museum that would be a repository of documents and memorabilia of all the country’s prime ministers.
“It could become, if we invest in it significantly, a protocol house which will host guests from time to time that visit Jamaica or host functions and entertain as it used to do. Or, it could become a protocol house that is in the pool of protocol houses that could be made available to ministers or other officials of Government to become a residence,” he said.
These proposals, though, are under consideration, and no decision has yet been made. “Whatever we decide to do with the property, the neighbourhood and the general community must be consulted,” the prime minister said.