Fort Clarence Beach Still Locked Up

Last year, I got an email from an irritated man: “I visited the Fort Clarence Beach today with my family, July 16, 2021, and realise that the place is in an unfortunate state. Maybe you can help me to understand the status of this beach; is this beach closed? What about the renovations you spoke of in your article about a year ago? The place seemed abandoned and unkempt. If Kingstonians or those from St Catherine desire a beach rendezvous, what are our options especially those who may not [have] the option of driving out of town?”

My column was headlined ‘Bait and switch at Fort Clarence Beach?’ Douglas Abraham did not see the question mark. In a letter to the editor, he wrote: “I note with interest an article in The Sunday Gleaner (March 1) written by Dr Carolyn Cooper titled ‘Bait and switch’.” Mr Abraham admitted that I “had nothing negative to say about Fort Clarence Beach in its present state.” All the same, he concluded that, “It is beginning to look like Dr Cooper has a personal grouse with Guardsman Hospitality. She should note that the best beaches on the island are monopolised by ‘all inclusives’ and are off limits to the average Jamaican altogether!”

It is precisely because so many of our beaches are inaccessible that I was questioning whether or not Fort Clarence Beach would actually continue to be affordable under the management of Guardsman Hospitality Ltd. In 2019, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) leased the beach to the company for 25 years, effective September 1.

The UDC’s General Manager Heather Pinnock is quoted in a report in THE STAR, published in August 2019: “The divestment option was explored because of unsustainable annual losses at the facility. Additionally, fiscal constraints have limited the UDC’s ability to fully implement its development plans for the property.” In plain English, UDC was losing money and couldn’t afford to invest in the beach. Apparently, Guardsman Hospitality Ltd was expected to succeed where UDC had failed.

In February 2020, the entrance fee to Fort Clarence Beach was $300 for adults and $150 for children. This was only $50 more than the old UDC fees. And there was no restriction on taking food and drink on to the property. This was the authentic Jamaican beach excursion. But would it last? I speculated that the low entrance fees and flexible food and drink policy reflected the fact that Guardsman Hospitality Ltd had not completed renovations. And so my question about baiting and switching!


In February this year, I got another email about that same 2020 column. This time, it came from an irritated woman: “When will you be doing your follow up on this article? I had the pleasure of going over to Fort Clarence yesterday Sunday, February 20, 2022 and the sign on the gate said CLOSED. With no further notice as to when it will be opened to the public. We are certainly selling out all our beaches and Jamaicans soon will not be able to go to the beaches.”


Last month, I emailed Mrs Laura Heron, managing director of Guardsman Hospitality Ltd to find out when Fort Clarence Beach would be reopened. Here’s her response: “. . . we have put our primary development plan for Fort Clarence on hold at this time but will be putting in place an interim plan for the reopening of the beach, which we are trying to finalize for a summer opening.” Mrs Heron should know that summer is not a season in Jamaica. It’s our natural element.

We have only two seasons: dry and rainy. And we go to the beach all year round. A “summer” reopening of Fort Clarence Beach is simply not good enough. The pandemic restriction on beaches was lifted last June. And construction work was exempted from lockdown. Guardsman Hospitality Ltd could have been renovating the beach over the last several months, if that had been a priority.

Fort Clarence Beach is the largest and the best in the area. Hellshire Beach in its present state is no longer viable. There is still a lot of sand. But all those restaurants are sitting on it. They would need to be relocated so that the beachfront could be reclaimed. And the government needs to make a commitment to restore the reef.


I asked Mrs Heron if Fort Clarence Beach could be reopened temporarily for the Easter weekend. This is one of the most popular times for beach excursions. This year, in particular, when so many people want to celebrate freedom from lockdown, there will be a lot of pressure on the few beaches that are open. She reconfirmed that the beach could not be opened before July 1, “due to significant remedial work that needs to be done.”

Mrs Heron proposed an intriguing possibility: “We are prepared to allow access to the overflow from the Waves beach on to the property. [Fort Clarence Beach, to the right of Waves Beach, is visible at approximately minute 1:21 of the video.] However, we are starting work on the property as of April 11, 2022 and our legal department has advised against allowing access beyond 50’ [feet] from the shoreline, as well as through the main entry. Additionally, there will be signage posted along the beach advising the public that they swim at their own risk. We will not be able to provide lifeguards for that weekend, as we have not yet engaged that staff.”

I don’t know the terms of the UDC lease. But, surely, it should have included a requirement to keep Fort Clarence Beach open. And safe! If UDC is right, Guardsman Hospitality Ltd is not limited by “fiscal constraints.” The company ought to have the resources to quickly clean up the beach and hire lifeguards for the Easter weekend. The “remedial work” that is planned for this week could be focused on the urgent objective of reopening.

Under the management of the Urban Development Corporation, Fort Clarence Beach remained open, despite the “unsustainable annual losses.” UDC appeared to recognise that beach access is, essentially, a public service. Its value cannot be measured only in dollars and cents. The corporation is now out of the business of managing the beach. But it does have a duty to ensure that public good is not sacrificed on the altar of private wealth. UDC should not allow Guardsman Hospitality Ltd to treat the Jamaican public inhospitably.

7 thoughts on “Fort Clarence Beach Still Locked Up

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  1. Wow, some solid truth here. Dr. C! I remember how essential a trip to Ft. Clarence was for our ordinary working class family, endeavoring to hold up our heads in Western Kingston. It was a reward for school-work well and Sunday school outings. How many of our classic festival songs celebrate our sun, seas and sand? You and your disgruntled reader are quite justified in your questioning the posture of this ‘inhospitable corporation!’ Cho! Dem mus’ be made to do better man! Denise

      1. Indeed! We’re more than a beach, but those beaches are an important part of us! I remember my Dad having to bribe a man to let us on to a beach on the North Coast. Even as a child back then, I knew something was messed up about that. Let us know how we can support…

  2. Reblogged this on Petchary's Blog and commented:
    Once again, I must share this blog by Professor Carolyn Cooper (who also writes a Sunday Gleaner column) as once again, she has hit the nail on the head! We love our beaches. Fort Clarence has always been a particular favorite of ours, and the last time we went there (which would have been in 2018, when my brother and his wife visited from Australia) we all had the greatest fun. It’s an unpretentious beach. It’s close to Kingston (perhaps the water is not the cleanest, therefore) but always had a lovely laid back atmosphere, nice almond trees for shade, and – importantly for a beach trip – good Jamaican food available if you wanted it or you can just bring a picnic. For heaven’s sake, Jamaicans love their beaches. Do all our public beaches have to be bought up and turned into a money-making exercise?

  3. Hi Prof. Cooper. Yet another public beach is about to be sold into private hands, Aligator Pond in Manchester.
    We (the UIC ) are very concerned about this and in full support of the citizens.
    May I contact you by direct mail to speak on this further?

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