Heritage may be ‘critical’, but making money comes first

With its unchanged Georgian capital, clifftop defences and country mansions, St Helena’s built heritage has been described as globally important.

Government policies say it is key to hopes of attracting tourists to an island without beaches or guaranteed sunshine.

“Conservation of the historic built environment is critical to the success of tourism growth,” says the new Land Development Control Plan.

But not at all costs. The official policy is one of "carefully balancing the need to conserve our rich heritage and the need for economy to grow."

In other words, conservation matters until money-making matters more. “Development of the island is paramount if it is to meet its primary objective of becoming economically independent," says the control plan.

“As such there will be a balance to be met between the preservation of the historic asset, and the wealth generation necessary to help fund such preservation.”

In other words, there is no promise to protect the buildings that help to make the island special – and attractive to tourists who don’t worry about the shortage of sand.

Where a building must be lost, says the development plan, "processes will be put in place to record and mitigate."

As one critic has told St Helena Online: “From a distance it seems like the upper echelons of SHG want to feel heritage is an optional add-on to the real work of building a market economy.

“Eventually a market economy will save some of the heritage of the island. Sadly it will save too little, too late, and be done in such a pedestrian fashion that it will be wasted effort.”

Tough decisions would be needed and there had seemed to be a lack of will to take them – until, that is, the executive council refused to downgrade Wrangham’s in Sandy Bay so it could be sold.

“Perhaps this is the start of some of those tough decisions.”

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