Opposition Leader Mark Golding has urged squatters in Little Bay and Brighton in Westmoreland not to give up the fight for the lands they have occupied, arguing that under law, they have a right to the property they have called home for decades.
The residents have been on an 867-acre property in Little Bay, some for up to 70 years.
But following a court ruling against the residents’ claim, they have been urged by some leaders to leave the lands, making way for developers to go ahead with a reported multi-billion dollar investment.
However, the residents have been defiant in their quest to stay on the lands, and earlier this month staged a demonstration, during which they vowed not to leave the beachfront property in question.
Speaking with residents at the Brighton community centre on Thursday, Golding claimed that they have a right to the property, and said the Government cannot ignore their plight.
“You may not have a legal title as yet, but you have been living on the property and you have invested in your property way beyond the 12 years by law. So these situations cannot be ignored by the Government,” declared the People’s National Party (PNP) president.
Under the current law, squatters can claim legal ownership to private lands by what is called adverse possession if they can prove to the court that they acted as owners undisturbed for 12 years or more.
But, during a recent meeting with residents who are squatting on the lands in question, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told them that the court has already decided that they are unable to claim the land by adverse possession.
Holness said the Government had attempted to purchase the land, but they could not afford the cost.
Still, Golding believes that the Government can use its powers under the Local Improvements (Community Amenities) Act to achieve a peaceful and reasonable settlement of the simmering impasse between the longstanding residents and the landowner of the overall property.
He told the residents at the meeting on Thursday that he wrote to Holness last week and advised him that under the Act, the Minister of Housing (an office now held by the prime minister himself) can declare specified land to be absent orderly development, which thereby freezes all evictions and new tenancies while a development plan for the land is prepared.
While noting that he is yet to hear from the prime minister, Golding assured residents that he will continue to lobby on their behalf.
“I will continue to do what I can to try and bring about a solution to your situation. I will be working closely with your attorneys, with our candidates and our councillors,” he told residents.
“At the end of the day, the Government cannot abandon you. You cannot leave it to the situation where one person or one family, their likes as they see it, overcome the rights of so many people,” Golding insisted.
“That can’t be right. The Government must intervene,” he charged, adding that the state can act as a mediator in the land dispute.
Meantime, the PNP president urged the residents not to resort to violence to settle the land situation that has been festering for decades.
It is understood that one of the owners of the land was murdered in 2004 after he tried to retrieve the land from residents.
The man’s wife has, however, continued the battle for the land.
In 2011, a claim on the lands by residents, which had been filed eight years before, was rejected in the court. A subsequent stay of execution of the court’s order, filed by the residents’ legal representatives, was also rejected.
After that, the residents returned to court, where they applied for an interim stay of execution which stalled eviction preparations.
That prompted the owners of the land to file a counter-motion, during which the court upheld the original 2011 ruling for the removal of the residents.
Notwithstanding the court’s decision, the residents have refused to leave, and efforts to evict them have so far been unsuccessful.