Much has been said about the proposed resort project which will be constructed at the base of Petit Piton in an area in Soufriere known to many as Malgretoute, and part of the orld heritage site. The project called Freedom Bay was first granted approval by the Dr Kenny Anthony administration back in 2006.
For whatever reasons, it lagged under the King administration between 2007 and 2011, even though the then Government sought to obtain the lands from private owners on behalf of the developers, a matter still embroiled in controversy. Then on January 5th 2013, the Freedom Bay project was “re-launched” here by the developers Six Sense at a ground breaking ceremony attended by several Government ministers under a new administration.
The familiar talk of jobs, both during construction and once the resort opened up, were echoed from developer to public officials, this even before all the “i’s” had been dotted and the “t’s” crossed from all the STAR has since learnt about the project. But as stated, much has been said already on the project.
These have included non other than the island’s Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott who has long opposed any such development within the region of the Pitons and World Heritage Site. Walcott described the latest development as the further scarring of the land and the “whoring” of the island’s natural heritage. This followed a series of articles in the STAR Newspaper and later commentaries by Darnley Lebourne, former press secretary and a longstanding member of the Saint Lucia National Trust.
Till then, the only quip from Government came from the PS in the Ministry of Sustainable development Sylvester Clauzel who defended the Government’s position to approve the development in what he described as a “build zone” within the world heritage site. Then, on January 23 in a press statement emanating the press secretary to the Prime Minister instead of attempting to clarifying some of the controversy and ensuing debates in the public interest, the Government shot back at Lebourne for daring to speak out against the development since he apparently was silent as press secretary to the former Prime Minster.
Amidst all of this we have made several attempts to get a position from the Saint Lucia National Trust on the matter. And after weeks of trying we eventually got an e-mail sent to the media saying that the “Trust” was in the process of gathering all the information ahead of meeting with its membership before issuing a statement. And then one came last week, loaded with information that reveals a number of things.
Firstly, that full approval has not been granted for the construction of Freedom Bay to the developers. Then there is the whole question of a moratorium on construction which was supposed to be imposed within the PMA when permission was granted to Freedom Bay amongst several other revealing facts.
“Based on the research and information collected, on February 15, 2013 a letter stating our concerns was delivered to the Honourable Prime Minister and copied to the Ministers of Physical Development; Sustainable Development; Tourism; and Education, who is the Focal point,” the release from the Saint Lucia National Trust started by saying. “The Freedom Bay development was granted full approval by the Cabinet of Ministers in 2010 following its examination of a miniature model of the development,” it went on.
However the information from the SLNT indicates that this approval has since lapsed and that the developer is in the process of reapplying for planning approval for the project, which received “approval-in-principle” from the Cabinet of Ministers earlier this year. “In granting approval-in-principle Cabinet instructed that the developer submit a full application to the Development Control Authority and that any approved development are to abide by any new conditions [to be] established in the upcoming Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) Study,” the Trust says. The release from the Saint Lucia National Trust then goes on to explain the LAC study.
“Back in 2003 when Saint Lucia applied to the World Heritage Committee (WHC) to have the Pitons Management Area (PMA) inscribed in the List of World Heritage, a commitment was given as part of the application to undertake a “Limits of Acceptable Change Study,” to define levels of development which may be permitted without compromising the site’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).” Since that time growing concerns over the impact of developments on the site’s OUV have prompted the WHC to consider placing the PMA on the List of World Heritage in Danger and further requested that the LAC be completed to provide the framework within which developments and the site’s OUV may co-exist.
“Instead of undertaking the LAC Study Government commissioned a study entitled The Pitons Management Area and Soufriere Region Integrated Development Plan, commonly referred to as the Hyder Report, which was approved by Cabinet and subsequently submitted to the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd Meeting in 2008,” the SLNT informs.
According to the “Trust” the report was “welcomed” as the preparation of an integrated development strategy for the property and requests was made that Saint Lucia took the necessary steps to adopt its recommendations as the foundation of a binding planning framework for the property under the laws of St. Lucia. Further development approvals combined with no action to strengthen the development planning framework prompted the WHC to revisit its earlier decision to place the PMA on the List of World Heritage in Danger, which Government was able to avert on the basis of a commitment to undertake the LAC Study. The WHC accepted this undertaking and a decision taken in June 2011 called for the enforcement of a moratorium on residential and hotel developments within the property and the undertaking of a Limits of Acceptable Change study, as well as a review of land use plans and development control guidelines in order to avoid any deterioration of its Outstanding Universal Value.
The WHC also invited Saint Lucia to submit requests for international assistance to support the preparation of the LAC. However right after that June meeting of the WHC Government lifted the moratorium on development approvals, approved five new developments then reinstated the “Moratorium.” Talk about dipping into the honeycomb when the queen bee is away.
“This, and other developments within the PMA prompted the WHC to once again place on its agenda, a recommendation to place the PMA on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 36th Meeting in St. Petersburg in June 2012. Government responded to this latest threat by making representations to the Committee on steps to be taken to protect the site’s OUV,” according to the SLNT. Minister Jimmy Fletcher represented the island at that meeting to once again save Saint Lucia and the Pitons the embarrassment of being de-listed as a world heritage site.
The WHC it is said noted with grave concern that additional developments within the property were granted in 2011, despite the as yet incomplete drafting of the Limits of Acceptable Change and development regulations and guidelines. It also noted that the property’s Outstanding Universal Value may have already been compromised by developments within the property and requested that Saint Lucia in as much as construction may not have commenced, to issue a stop work order and to cancel the five development permits granted in 2011, and to not approve any additional developments until the Limits to Acceptable Change study, along with development regulations and guidelines, are completed and legally integrated into the development review process.
The release from the SLNT also makes reference of the comments from the Ministry of Sustainable Development justifying the granting of approval to the project in what it says is policy area 4, a build zone. However according to the SLNT the Hyder Report, and its prescription regarding Policy Area 4, states: “Policy Area 4 should for the greater part, be protected from further development and infrastructure. The only permissible development should be for essential infrastructure, for local residential, community and agricultural needs, for the processing of local agricultural produce and for limited tourism and leisure purposes. “Community and local residential developments should be located within or adjacent to existing settlements and maintain the scale and vernacular qualities of traditional settlements. Villa development should be avoided and residential buildings should be limited to a maximum footprint of 1800 sq feet. Tourism and leisure developments should be modest in scale, sustainable and be confined to existing settlements and plantations.” According to the Saint Lucia National Trust it is clear from this statement that the Freedom Bay development deviates from these guidelines on several counts and references to Policy Area 4 as justification for planning approval is unreasonable.
Of further concern to the Trust are claims by the developer that preliminary civil works over and beyond the approved site exploratory investigations are ongoing and construction is scheduled to commence in June 2013. The implied imminent full approval is extremely troubling the Trust says given that the “LAC” study has not even been commissioned, the development plan and related Environmental Impact Assessment are incomplete and no application has been re-submitted to the Development Control Authority. Of course, further to all of this the Saint Lucia National Trust is concerned as many other Saint Lucians from all walks of life about the possible loss of the site’s rich natural, historical and cultural assets as well as public access to the beach during the construction and operational stages, loss of habitats, pollution of the near shore habitats and loss of artifacts and other components of our cultural heritage.
Meanwhile these implications seem to mean little by those in authority whose only blind-sided vision appears to be the granting of a few jobs for a country with a high unemployment rate. This even as several hotel projects in Soufriere some ranked among the best in the world, has done little to save the district from escaping the languishing from the poverty that touristic projects have promised in the past. Any wonder that there is little hope in freedom?