Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Implemented by the Organization of American States
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Caribbean Regional Program


Landslide Hazard Mitigation and Loss-reduction
for the Kingston Jamaica Metropolitan Area

Physical Planning Mechanism and Natural Hazards

Presented by Blossom Samuels at the Workshop on Landslide Hazard Mitigation and Loss Reduction with particular reference to the Kingston Metropolitan Area, Kingston, Jamaica 28 January 1999

Major legislation affecting development in Jamaica

In the Jamaican context three (3) major pieces of legislation can be readily identified which have a significant impact on the development of properties and ultimately the granting of permission to build. These are namely:

  1. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1957
  2. The Local Improvements Act of 1914
  3. The Parish Council's Building Act of 1908 and the KSAC's Building Act

A brief examination of aspects of each of the legislation relevant to the whole issue of hazard mitigation and loss reduction will follow.

(1) The Town and Country Planning Act

This legislation stipulates that in areas for which a Development Order has been prepared, planning permission is required from the Local Planning Authority before "development" as defined by the Act can be undertaken. In those areas for which no development orders have been prepared no planning permission is required to undertake development. The Development Order is therefore the legal document guiding development in Jamaica. These orders are prepared by the Town and Country Planning Authority in consultation with the Local Planning Authority (Parish Councils & KSAC). The Town and Country Planning Authority which is a body established under the Act can "call in" an area for which a development order has been prepared. In this instance the Town and Country Planning Authority has the jurisdiction to oversee all development applications if it so desires within that area. The areas "called in" are Portland Coast, St Mary Coast, Ocho Rios, Negril, and Westmoreland South East Coast.

Areas Covered by Development Orders

Development Orders have been prepared for all the coastal areas of Jamaica except St James, Trelawny, Manchester, Clarendon and Westmoreland where the entire parishes are under the Town and Country Planning Act by virtue of having parish Development Orders. A special order exists for the Negril area. This order encompasses sections of the parishes of Westmoreland and Hanover. See map. Presently the Order for the parish of St Ann is being printed. Work on a new parish Order for Manchester is far advanced and likewise for the Negril area. Work has begun on the order for the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew. This order will replace the Kingston Development Order of 1966 which covered the parish of Kingston and a section of the parish of St Andrew. At present therefore sections of the parish of St Andrew are outside the ambit of the Town and Country Planning Act.

(2) The Local Improvements Act

The subdivision of land throughout Jamaica is regulated under this Act. The Act stipulates that all subdivision of land for building or sale throughout Jamaica requires the permission of the local planning authority of the parish in which the land is located. The Act requires that the comments of the Chief Technical Director be obtained prior to the applicant being notified of the Parish Council's decision. By virtue of an amendment in 1959 the expert advice of the Government Town Planner is also required by the local authority prior to notification of applicants.

(3) The Parish Councils Building Act

Construction of buildings in towns and any areas which may be delimited by the parish councils (Local Authority) is controlled under this legislation. The Parish Councils/KSAC are allowed to impose suitable conditions with regards to size, elevation, and structural integrity of buildings. To date regulations cover the principal towns of all the parishes. In those areas which have been delimited under the Building Act permission is to be obtained from the (Council/KSAC) before construction commences. The extent of the building area for which permission is required from persons desirous of constructing buildings in the Kingston area is larger than that delimited under the Town and Country Planning Act. It should be noted that sections of the parish of St Andrew are outside the jurisdiction of the Kingston and St Andrew Building Act.

In summary in areas where both acts occur an applicant needs both a planning permission and a building permit.

We will now take a brief look at the Town Planning Department.

The Town Planning Department

The Town Planning Department is an advisory agency of Central Government and advises Local Planning Authorities & the Town & Country Planning Authority on the use of land. It was established in 1950 and its major role is to ensure the orderly and progressive development of both rural and urban areas in Jamaica in order to secure a proper balance between the competing demands for the use of land. The Department does NOT grant permission for developments it only makes recommendations to the Local Planning Authorities and the Town and Country Planning Authority.

The major functions are:

  1. The existence of conservation areas
  2. Slope categories
  3. Proximity of the site to gullies, streams, the coastline
  4. Reported occurrence of flooding.

Procedure for Obtaining Permission to Develop and Build in Jamaica

(a) Planning Permission

Required in areas covered by Development Orders

  1. Applicant submits duly completed application form with 2 sets of the plan, provides proof of ownership and pays the required fees to the Local Planning Authority.
  2. If area is called in by the Town and Country Planning Authority (TCPA), the Local Planning Authority submits application to the Town Planning Department for the consideration of the Town and Country Planning Authority. All gas station applications are "called in" hence the Town and Country Planning Authority receives all such applications.
  3. TCPA in case of (ii) above assesses application and informs the applicant and the Local Planning Authority of its decision.
  4. If the area is not "called in" then the Local Planning Authority deals with the application and informs the applicant of its If the area is not "called in" then the Local Planning Authority deals with the application and informs the applicant of its decision. However the Local Planning Authority seeks the advice of the TPD. On certain applications for the T.C.P.A., the Department consults other agencies for advice. For example plans that are submitted in say Jacks Hill area or any other steep area are sent to Geological Survey Department for advice. Dependent upon location, a site investigation report is normally required. The regulations under the NRCA Act specify the types of developments which must be submitted for their comments or permit.
(b) Building Permission

This is required in town areas and any other area covered by the parish council building act.

  1. Applicant submits duly completed application to the local planning authority (Parish Council and Kingston and St Andrew Corporation in the case of these two parishes). The applicant is also required to pay a fee which amounts to a half of one percent of the cost of the building. Proof of ownership of the property is also required. Five sets of the building plans are also required.
  2. The local authority assesses the application and informs the applicant of its decision.
  3. In the case of applications in areas covered by a development order planning permission is also required. Thus building applications for Kingston and St Andrew submitted to the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation which fall in the area covered by the Kingston Development Order also require planning permission.
  4. Applicant is informed of local planning authority decision.
(c) Subdivision Permission

Permission for subdivision of land throughout Jamaica is obtained under the Local Improvements Act.

  1. Applicant submits application to the Local Planning Authority with the relevant fees, duly completed application form in triplicate, proof of ownership and the required copies of the subdivision plan. If the application is for:
    a) 10 lots and under and less than 5 acres 12 copies of the subdivision plan are required.
    b) 11 lots and over and over 5 acres 15 copies of the plan are required.
    c) Over 11 lots and/or 20 hectares (50 acres) 16 copies of the plan are required.
  2. Local planning Authority forwards application to Town Planning Department for the advice of the Government Town Planner.
  3. Town Planning Department solicits the comments of the Chief Technical Director for all applications and from other relevant government departments as may be required depending on the location of the property. Thus agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Ministry of Agriculture, Geological Survey Division and the Environmental Control Division of the Ministry of Health, for example are requested to submit comments with regard to the suitability of the site for the proposed use. In this manner the department seeks to be guided by the expertise of the site to different natural hazards and its suitability for the development.
  4. The Local Planning Authority is then informed of the Department's recommendations after it has received the comments solicited from the agencies.
  5. The Local Authority advises applicant of the conditions to be attached and after acceptance, the plan is sent to the appropriate Minister for ratification. The plan is only then approved.

Planning and Natural Hazards—The role of the Town Planning Department

The department requires/requests that applications submitted for subdivision of land should show:

  1. The existence of springs, gullies, streams, rivers, wells, ponds etc on the subdivision plan.
  2. If the property is located along the coast the coastline should be shown.
  3. Depressions, cliffs or any other outstanding physical features are also to be indicated on the plan.

Although the Department does not itself possess the expertise to assess subdivision applications based on their vulnerability to natural hazards it seeks to be informed by agencies with this capacity. Consequently all applications located in areas identified as being particularly vulnerable to natural hazards on a map of Disaster prone areas of Jamaica done in 1977 at a scale of 1:125,000 are sent to relevant agencies for their comments.

As a result, all subdivision applications submitted for the hilly areas of St Andrew e.g. Jacks Hill area are forwarded to the Geological Survey Division for its comments. Likewise all applications for Highgate and Preston land in St Mary and Cave Valley in St Ann are submitted for comments. In the case of flood prone areas the comments of ODPEM, NRCA are obtained prior to the Department's recommendations being made.

Status of TPD Guidelines for KMA

The Department has no specific established guidelines for development in landslide prone areas in Kingston except that of obtaining comments and conditions from agencies such as Geological Survey Division and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority and any other relevant agencies. As mentioned earlier these comments are taken into account when the application is being assessed. All subdivision applications received by the Department for areas such as Jacks Hill with a well known history of slope instability are submitted for the comments of the Geological Survey Division. Thus the Department is advised on the suitability of the sit for the proposed development as well as measures needed to make it suitable.

Where flooding is a likely hazard the Department seeks to be guided by the informed comments of the Ministry of Transport and Works, ODPEM and the NRCA.

In addition subdivision applications are received in area with streams, gullies, or along the coastline are submitted to the NRCA and the Environmental Control Division of the Ministry of Health for comments.

In areas however where the land is steep it is required that the MINIMUM size of a residential lot be (1/4 acre) 1012 sq metres. Where multifamily development is being contemplated in the hills of St Andrew the minimum lot size recommended by the Department is 0.8 hectares (2 acres).

Presently Building permission is not dealt with by the Town Planning Department. However applications within the building area of Kingston and St Andrew are required to conform to the stipulation of the National Building Code in relation to the earthquake hazard. Currently the use of hurricane straps is actively promoted. I am advised that plans submitted are required to show the use of hurricane straps in roofing where applicable.

Importance of Landslide Hazard Information to KMA

The bulk of the new residential development in the KMA is occurring in the hilly terrain of St Andrew. Much of this area contains slopes which may be susceptible to land slippage. In many places careful observation by trained personnel reveals evidence of earlier slope failure which has almost been completely concealed due to revegetation.

The availability of maps depicting areas susceptible to slope failure and identifying the vulnerability of the Kingston Metropolitan Area to landslide hazard would assist in alerting planners to vulnerable areas for development. In fact it could possibly highlight that there are some areas which are unsuitable for intensive urban type development. Such areas would therefore be strong candidates for being left in as close to their natural state as possible.

Bearing in mind the expenditure and dislocation which often occur as a result of landslides such information would be useful to guide developers when undertaking their development on high risk landslide areas. Hence the inclusion of information on landslide susceptibility in the upcoming Kingston Development Order would be very useful.

Types of Information Needed

This includes:

  1. Landslide information mapped at a scale of 1:10,000 or 1:5,000 indicating where landslides are occurring.
  2. Identification of areas which have suffered massive landslides in the past but which are presently not experiencing any movement.
  3. Evaluation and rating of the landslide hazard in different geological units in the KMA in relation to the slopes present.

The above information would help to assist planners in:

  1. Identifying those areas where as a result of increased levels of development new slides may be expected.
  2. Evaluating the magnitude and type of development which can be allowed in landslide prone areas such that land movement is not exacerbated.
  3. Identifying areas where development should be minimized in terms of subdivision of property and the construction of roads and erection of buildings.


Information on landslide prone and other hazardous areas is critical to the planning process as this assists in better decision making with respect to the highest and best use of land.

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