A planned hotel development near the Pitons in Saint Lucia has fueled more debate about the way to balance development with cultural and environmental concerns. The proposed “eco-luxury” development is “Freedom Bay”, which plans to include a five-star hotel in addition to private residences.
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott has been a vocal critic of untrammeled development, particularly in this sensitive area, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He addressed this latest issue while speaking to reporters at the launch of Nobel Laureate Week:
‘Where is this hotel going to be located?’ Walcott demanded. ‘Have they begun it yet? When are they starting? And exactly where is this place? Will you see it in any projection of Petit Piton? And nobody has objected to it? They have not objected to it in parliament? So the deal was approved by the Saint Lucian government. I am ashamed of my country because that’s whoring and you can quote me on that. If you are telling me right, that there is going to be a hotel built at the base of Petit Piton, visible as a hotel, then that is whoring and I am ashamed of my country. There can still be time for protest but what can you say when a country approves of its own disfigurement?’
The Facebook group St. Lucians Aiming for Progress, seemed to be the hub for online discussion about the issue. Leigh Allan wasn't sure about the extent to which hotel developments are worth it in the long term:
This is going to bring some jobs and that's great! St.Lucia can really do with more employment opportunities. I'm just curious as to how many of those jobs will be blue collar or white collar? Also on the topic of hotels have we sorted out the issues with some hotels not paying taxes for many years without consequences or are they using their employees jobs to not pay taxes owed to government. We also need to think about when if ever a government in St.Lucia will once and for all make it so that beaches belong to the people of St.Lucia and not the hotels?
Christopher Simmons suggested that the project is a land grab by speculators and not a major development:
Plain and simple. We have just handed over to foreign white speculators one of the most lucrative piece (sic) of real estate in the world. This project is no more than a luxury condo development and not a world established resort hotel. Therefore the positive impact on the economy will be minimum. I can tell you that that pierce (sic) of real estate will change hands and be sold for million (sic) more during the next 10 years. 6 senses are not hotel developers or investors, they are a hotel management company operating a few average resorts in the Indian Ocean…Due to transparency let the people of St.Lucia know what was paid for the property and the terms of contract, concessions etc. What use the poor excuses of Jobs?
Nadia Causabon was concerned about the loss of the nation's patrimony and proposed that the development be moved to a less sensitive area:
How much of our culture will we lose by losing access to that beach? You should demand to find out what kind of access you will have on that beach once construction starts. If you have never used that beach I hope you didn't just have an ‘its not in my backyard so it doesn't affect me’ thought! How much of our heritage will we lose? How much of our patrimony have we lost? Can we get it back?
What can you do? I urge you to write to planning, ministers and the developers, call the talk shows and other media houses to let your voice be heard.
What I would like to see is for this development to relocate to another area in St. Lucia outside of the PMA. GOSL acquire what was sold to the developer, develop what was deeded into a beach park and sell the rest of the land back to natural born St. Lucians giving first priority to people from Soufriere. AND a moratorium on SELLING any other piece of St. Lucia to foreigners, consider leasing land instead.
Dr. Jimmy Fletcher, Minister for Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology Government, confirmed that the Freedom Bay development is within the Heritage Site:
The Freedom Bay Development falls within the Pitons Management Area. I believe what the Permanent Secretary said is that it falls within Policy Area 4 of the PMA. The Hyder Report or the Pitons Management Area and Soufriere Region Integrated Development Plan (November 2007) establishes 7 Policy Areas and prescribes the levels of development that should take place in each of these areas.
Fletcher then indicated what types of development were allowed in the area:
Both these areas allow for trails and minor interpretation works. Policy Area 3 is the coastal area (Jalousie and Beausejour) and there are 3 different scenarios possible: (i) a restrained approach that calls for no new buildings or infrastructure. However, building refurbishment and minor leisure developments in hotel complex are allowed; (ii) a balanced or intermediate approach that allows leisure and residential developments in selected locations subject to EIA; and (iii) a Permissive Approach that allows leisure and residential developments subject to EIA. Policy Area 4 comprises the Remainder of the PMA, which is where the Freedom Bay project will be located.
He went on to say that ultimately any development is subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA):
The Restrained Approach for this Area allows for built development and infrastructure only for limited community, residential and agricultural needs and minor leisure and tourism development and the processing of local agricultural produce. The balanced or intermediate approach for Policy Area 4 allows, in addition to the concessions for the Restrained Approach, development in or adjacent to existing villages or in plantations, e.g. plantation hotels, subject to EIA. The Permissive Approach for Policy Area 4 allows development in new locations subject to EIA.
Dane Gibson reiterated the point that not all developments are worth the cost and linked to this 2010 profile from the Telegraph newspaper in support of his point:
While I acknowledge there is almost a certain desperation on the part of government and some of our people to improve and maintain economically the lively hoods of St Lucians we must be very careful that it should not come at the cost of selling our Natural Heritage for thirty pieces of silver
Gibson joined Nadia Causabon in suggesting that the development be moved to another location on the island:
The proposed concept and model is being offered by Sixth Senses and Freedom Bay can be done on a Conway site if done correctly. Let them build, let them build and responsibly, but let them build somewhere else on the island and preserve our Natural Heritage and Legacy.
Amatus Edwards, in reply to Gibson, added:
It is my view that lands of commercial and agriculture nature that is own (sic)by government should never be sold – only leased. Government should also move in and seek to acquire properties like this one and do a better job at sustain-ably managing it that (sic) this aging man.
Other images used in the body of the post include: “Pitons”, by alexbooker (CC BY-NC 2.0); St Lucia – view of the Pitons from Anse Chastenet by heatheronhertravels (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0); and Setting Sun – St. Lucia – Pitons – View by Jason Michael (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)