New planning rules protect island – but what are they?

Mist rolls across a spur of the Diana's Peak mountain range on St Helena island

New protection for St Helena's landscape - but details are hazy

New controls on developing land on St Helena have been agreed, after eight months of “emotive” public debate.

Great Stone Top in the distance, with white water swirling round the rocks off Gill Point, St Helena
You can’t build there, mate: Great Stone Top

But a report by Governor Mark Capes gives no indication of what decisions emerged from a lengthy discussion by councillors.

Critics have complained that outsiders will be allowed to build luxury tourist lodges in some of the island’s most beautiful heartland areas, while Saints who want to build new homes face tight restrictions.

New “development friendly” planning rules that protected the environment were a condition of UK funding for St Helena’s £200 million airport.

In his executive council report, Governor Capes says:

In all there were 30 weeks of extensive public consultations across the island. It is fair to say that there were some heated moments.

But of course, it is only to be expected that discussion of controls on land use should at times become an emotive issue.

So it was no surprise that our discussion today of the final details of the new Land Development Control Plan proved to be lengthy and detailed with firmly held views expressed on many points.

It was an excellent discussion from which it was clear that all Councillors in ExCo were sharply focused not just on the interest of the people of St Helena today, but also for the generations of Saints to come.

Changes to existing planning law will be put before Legislative Council “as soon as possible,” says Mr Capes.

Councillors also approved a new system to make it simpler to release government-owned land and homes on to the property market, which “should enable wealth creation”, says Mr Capes:

An important objective of the housing strategy is to make it easier for people to gain access to a range of affordable housing types.

A draft Land Development Control Plan, published in January 2012, set out key principles that follow long-established practice in the UK. They include:

  • “protecting absolutely” the island’s natural riches and built heritage, while enabling construction of an airport
  • encouraging tourist facilities primarily based on natural and historic heritage
  • enabling “appropriate and well-located” housing
  • enabling appropriate commercial, cultural and social facilities
  • conserving natural and built heritage to benefit tourism and the island community
  • protecting agricultural land
  • encouraging sustainable use of water and renewable energy.

The draft plan said no development would be allowed more than 550 metres above sea level, except for conservation or nature study, such as walkways, or tourist eco lodges – which would have to be screened by trees.

It also said no development would be allowed in the Green Heartland for new homes or “sleeping facilities”, except for re-use of derelict buildings. Many of St Helena’s unique, traditional four-room cottages have fallen into disrepair as islanders have moved into modern homes.

Three “coastal village areas” were proposed in the draft plan, at Thompson’s Valley, Prosperous Bay and Sandy Bay. Strict design standards would be imposed.

Separate legal protection was also proposed for various National Conservation Areas – which would include three new national parks: The Peaks (an expansion of Diana’s Peak national park), Sandy Bay, and The Barn and Stone Top.

They would also include nine heritage conservation areas, five key areas for protecting St Helena’s unique wirebird, and six nature reserves: Millennium Forest, High Hill, Deep Valley, Prosperous Bay Plain, the Heart-Shaped Waterfall and the small islands around St Helena.

There was also a proposal to extend the Jamestown conservation area, “to protect the critical backdrop of the town.” The plans said both sides of The Avenue should become part of the Longwood conservation area, and the Lemon Valley conservation zone should be extended, prompted by new historical research.

Special protection was proposed for a Heritage Coast between Ladder Hill Fort and Banks’ Battery; Jamestown; High Knoll Fort; the Boer War cemetery; places connected with Napoleon; Longwood and Napoleon’s Tomb; Lemon Valley; and the governor’s home at Plantation House.

(St Helena Government has been asked to set out for this website any changes to the draft development plan agreed by executive councillors).  

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