After ten years of planning and a flurry of eleventh-hour doubts, ambitious plans to build a spa hotel and eco-resort on St Helena have been given the green light.
But UK writer Ian Mathieson has called for “a full public debate” on the environmental and economic implications.
The scheme is the largest ever to be considered by councillors, apart from the £200 million airport project.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had praised the environmental ideals of the developer, but formally objected to the plans because of doubts about the impact on the island’s critically-endangered wirebirds.
The St Helena National Trust had also objected to the scheme, which includes an 88-suite hotel and 165 holiday homes.
The island’s planning board recommended approval for the scheme on 7 June 2012, but with a set of strict conditions.
The developer, Shelco, had already given undertakings to protect water supplies and established paths across the land, and improve breeding conditions for wirebirds on the site.
Governor Mark Capes was due to make the final decision on Tuesday, 12 June, but when the plans went before executive councillors they asked for further reports before giving their own view.
Approval was finally given on Friday, 15 June, after a special meeting of the executive council (ExCo).
Governor Capes reported after the meeting:
“On Tuesday, officials provided a comprehensive oral briefing on the Shelco application. We then put questions to the officials and engaged in a good discussion of the project.
“ExCo chose to defer making a decision to allow more time to reflect on the issues raised during the briefing and the subsequent discussion. Clearly this was the right approach given the scale and importance of the proposed project.
This morning, Friday 15 June, ExCo met in open session to take a decision on the development application. I am pleased to report that ExCo indicated full support for the project and, accepting the planning board’s unanimous recommendation, duly approved the development application.”
In the June 2012 issue of the St Helena Connection – published shortly before the planning decision was made – Ian Mathieson expressed doubts about the whether there would be enough water available at Broad Bottom to serve the resort.
He also questioned the proposal that the hotel would be run by the Oberoi group, whose hotels – including one on Mauritius – have been named among the best in the world.
“What of the weather?” he asks. “While in Mauritius all months have an average of seven hours of sunshine a day, at Broad Bottom only in February can seven hours of sunshine be expected.
“There seems to be a strong likelihood that this project will slip through simply because there is little else on the table.
“At present it seems that the community may be blinded by the size of the investment without being aware of the contents of the Pandora’s Box which it may open.”