Land for the living or dead?

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HEALTH Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has said that legislators are to review the archaic Public Cemetery Management and Regulation Act and the Burial Within Towns’ Limits Act following complaints by residents opposed to any further expansion of Dovecot Memorial Park and Meadowrest Memorial Gardens in St Catherine.

“I am a member of parliament with two of the largest such establishments in the country, so as it turns out, as minister of health I have to step up to the plate and provide some leadership as it relates to how that segment of the industry functions,” Tufton said during the Meadowrest Memorial Gardens Annual Funeral Directors brunch yesterday.

His announcement comes amidst an ongoing dispute between Meadowrest and Green Acres housing scheme residents first reported by the Jamaica Observer last year.

The dispute, which underscores challenges being faced by the residents and business operators, in addition to the potential harm that the expansion might bring, has resulted in Realtors’ Association of Jamaica President Andrew James calling on the Government to hasten its pace in deciding whether the country will provide “land for the living or land for the dead”.

While Tufton has intervened in the row over the proposed expansion of the Meadowrest cemetery, fresh concerns have been raised by the residents of Taylor Road, which runs parallel to Dovecot Memorial, over that company’s plan to expand its burial grounds.

During a tour of the community by the Observer, the residents complained that for years they have been going through “muddy hell” from the run-off associated with the burial ground and surrounding communities, and despite attempts to rectify the situation, very little has been done.

“Whenever it rains, for like half-hour, you find that a place called Capture Land at the top, Dovecot, all of that water comes in one direction. You have a gully mouth down at the bottom, it is not wide enough so the water not sucking quick enough, so you find that it backs up and people in the lane get flooded out,” Taylor Road resident Loy Creary said.

“When the water back up it covers that house,” Creary said, pointing to a neighbouring dwelling. “The next house, call it that it is covered as well, and the house below it belongs to a man but he had to run leave the house because him nearly drown down there. That’s how bad it is,” she charged.

Creary told the newspaper that during the last flooding the community experienced in 2012 she had been up to her neck in murky waters.

“When you see the water coming out from Dovecot through the big gate there, it just dash out like a pool of water; it’s like a river running down,” another resident, Garfield Gallimore, explained.

Aside from the residents’ complaints about flooding, devaluation of properties, contamination of groundwater resource, noise and dust pollution from periodic blasting and the operation of heavy equipment, taxi drivers and motorists traversing St John’s Road are also at loggerheads with the operators of both cemeteries over the long lines of traffic associated with funerals.

“Mi nuh know if a more people a dead, but it worse now. From Monday to Thursdays, you have better days because you have less traffic pertaining to the funeral. The thing that affects us the most is indiscipline with the people that come to the burial ground,” taxi driver Raman Sterling told the Observer.

To date, the issues continue to inconvenience the residents of St Catherine West Central. Still, Meadowrest has submitted an application to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) for a 7.3-hectare (19-acre) expansion of the cemetery, noting that there is an urgent need for expansion, given the present demand of approximately 2,000 interments annually from Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine.

The neighbouring Dovecot Memorial Park has also submitted an expansion request to NEPA to cover 71 acres, which will be separated from the current cemetery by a parochial dirt road and a small settlement which forms part of Bendon Pen district.

“You see the new Dovecot that they want to open up, anytime they start that and the place start grade-down, a dead we dead down here, because if we a experience this and they don’t start yet, that water reach at my neck so when they start a dead me a go dead,” an upset Creary said.

Yesterday, Tufton told the group of funeral directors, who were being honoured for their business with Meadowrest, that the discussions on some of the issues that have arisen in recent times include dialogue with the citizens’ associations. “I’ve been doing my own background on some of the issues that we have to deal with as a country,” he added.

“I’m also in dialogue with the relevant agencies and local government. Even though you [burial operators] are a lot more formalised than the funeral directors, there is also need for a re-look at the existing regulations to address a few of the critical issues,” he continued.

According to Tufton, year after year, governments have been criticised for the snail’s pace in dealing with the issues, but given the industry’s importance, he intends to have new regulations passed in Parliament by the end of the 2019/20 fiscal year.

“There are some things that need to be revised; for example, local government says that public cemetery management and regulations act is not strong enough on allowing local government to have more influence or sufficient influence over how the private cemeteries function.

“I know you are otherwise regulated and I’m not here preaching for over-regulation, but that’s one issue that has come up as part of the discussion,” he continued.

Tufton also disclosed plans to address the aesthetics of burial grounds, access to communities, and health and wellness as some of the critical issues that he believes need to be reviewed.

“This industry is so important that we have to sit down and find ways to make it work, and work in a harmonious way in the interest of all concerned. I’m open for discussion. We have started some of those discussions and in due course you will hear some announcements that relate to new regulations,” Tufton said.

(See related video)

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