Writer Julian Cairns-Wicks has launched an attack on plans to build up-market tourist accommodation in some of St Helena’s most beautiful areas of unspoilt landscape, ready for the opening of the island’s first airport.
Writing in the St Helena Independent (17 February 2012), he takes ‘violent exception’ to ‘gifting vast chunks of our homeland to maintaining a beautiful view for our guests or allowing them to live in a house plonked right in the middle of it.
‘The naked scheme is really to asset strip the island’s beauty spots,’ writes Julian – a frequent critic of plans to transform the island and its economy.
He questions how much St Helenians will benefit financially in the long run. ‘We will have given away our birthright for what?’ he says. ‘I despair.’
In the same issue, Gregory Cairns-Wicks has a letter putting a different perspective, following a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce.
He writes: ‘I think it would be the icing on the cake to have a good five-star hotel here on St Helena. However, if [St Helena Government] gives away too much in negotiations, and as a result risks cramping the locals’ chance to develop, we may be left wondering why we opted for an airport at all.’
The Memorandum of Understanding that paved the way for St Helena’s airport said that planning policy had to become more ‘development friendly’, but with environmental safeguards.
The draft Land Development Control Plan points out the island currently has only 64 rooms available for tourists, with 15,000 a year expected within ten years of the airport opening.
But it also admits it is uncertain whether the island’s ‘fragile’ historic and built environment can cope with so many visitors.