St Helena Online

Tag: Broad Bottom

Go-ahead given for Wirebird Hills eco-resort – eventually

Artist's impression of the hotel from the south
An 88-room hotel and tourist lodges are planned at Broad Bottom (picture: Shelco)

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.”

RSPB objects to Shelco resort over wirebird doubts
‘Cautious support’ for wirebird resort (comment)
Will this be the site of the world’s greenest hotel?

Planning board backs eco resort – but Governor has final say

Artist's drawing of hotel frontage, with balconies, and pool in front
Artist’s impression: the world’s greenest hotel? Picture: Shelco

Plans for a leisure resort on St Helena have been passed by the island’s planning board – despite concerns raised over the impact on the endangered wirebird.

Final approval for the Wirebird Hills resort rests with Governor Mark Capes, who will make his decision on Tuesday 12 June 2012.

But the planning board recommended a series of conditions for developer Shelco.

If adopted, they will set high building standards and require protection of established footpaths across the Wirebird Hills site at Broad Bottom.

Shelco – the St Helena Leisure Corporation – must also ensure its operations do not harm groundwater levels or other users’ water supplies, during or after construction.

Read more by Vince Thompson in Friday’s St Helena Independent

The scheme for an 88-suite hotel with 165 tourist lodges and an “eco” golf course is the biggest to have been handled by island planning officials apart from the island’s airport – now under construction.

Shelco says its naturalistic golf course will make minimal demands on water resources in Broad Bottom and improve habitat for the island’s endemic wirebirds, which failed to raise any chicks at Broad Bottom in the last breeding season.

Matt Joshua of Enterprise St Helena has welcomed the provisonal approval, in a posting on Facebook. He writes:

“Planning permission for the “world’s greenest hotel” was passed today. What does this mean for St Helena? A major investment (possibly £70 million) by an internationally renowned hotel group (Oberoi) with outstanding green credentials. But also most importantly, opportunities for Saints to work directly for the hotel or in supporting services. Things are taking off on St Helena!”

RSPB objects to Shelco resort over wirebird doubts
Will this be the site of the world’s greenest hotel?

Enterprise St Helena
Saint Connect
Wirebird Hills planning report (warning: large file)

Endemics for sale: St Helena’s new cash crop?

tree ferns from above
GREEN ECONOMY: Endemic plants such as tree ferns could be grown for the world’s gardeners, says Shelco

Some of St Helena’s unique plants could be grown for export to garden centres around the world, it’s been suggested.

The idea is put forward in the masterplan for the Wirebird Hills eco-resort at Broad Bottom, which also includes planting endemic species across the 160-hectare site.

Tree ferns in foreground; mist-covered peaks behind
MIST OPPORTUNITY: island’s cloud forest could be extended (picture by courtesy of Shelco)

Growing tree ferns could become a business opportunity for Saints, says the main 82-page planning report submitted by developer Shelco.

Tree ferns and native dogwoods could even be used to increase rainfall, reducing strain on water supplies. Both species were part of a cloud-forest that St Helena National Trust hopes to recreate across the highest parts of the island, from High Hill to the central peaks.

The Shelco report says investing money in reforestation would pay off in improved landscape, better habitat for wildlife and greater rainfall – and also as a business prospect for contract-growers on the island.

“There may also be opportunities for establishing an export market for the tree fern (Dicksonia arnorescens) and other rare plants to supply the international garden centre market,” it says.

But growing enough plants to realise Shelco’s ambitions is a challenge.

Gumwood tree
GUMWOOD RALLY: tree planting will follow historic records (picture: Shelco)

“The Agriculture and Nature Resources Department nursery presently appears to be the only one on the island which may be in a position to provide the volume of endemic and indigenous plants which are likely to be needed.

“However, some resident Saints have also expressed an interest in being able to provide suitable plant material at the earliest opportunity.”

Shelco has spent more than a decade researching and refining its proposals for Broad Bottom. Parts of its proposed site are used for beef grazing, but large areas are overgrown with invasive species such as flax or gorse.

The company consulted historical records and analysis to devise “appropriate” planting of native species.

“The landscape and planting character would echo the drop in elevation at the lower, northern edge of the site towards Lemon Valley.”

Three planting zones are proposed:

Tree fern zone: The surviving remnants of tree fern woodland on High Peak would be extended – with neighbouring landowners’ agreement – to form “a continuous blanket” of woodland, coming down to the edge of the proposed eco golf course. “In the long term the road to Head O’Wain could be flanked on either side by this distinctive characteristic ‘Cloud Forest’ vegetation.”

Gumwood habitat: The native gumwood – adopted as the national tree in 1977 – originally extended over roughly a third of the island, between 400 and 600 metres above sea level. Shelco hopes to imitate planting of the Millennium Gumwood Forest on desert ground beyond Longwood. “The tree has a dome-shaped canopy and gnarled and crooked multi stems, making it particularly attractive and picturesque.”

Ebony and waterside Habitat: Ebony and gumwood thickets historically stretched across land between 100 and 500 metres above sea level. Similar planting would be recreated on the sides of guts (steep, gouged valleys), stretching down into Lemon Valley. This would merge with “riparian vegetation” found close to water, along with exoting lakeside planting. A small lake was created on the site some years ago. “Ferns would also be extensively used as foliage ground cover planting in the lower areas within the guts.”

The Shelco plan says existing landscape features such as rows of thorn trees, water features and field boundaries would be preserved, with its golf course designed around them.

St Helena ebony, with pointed leaves and reddish-pink flowers
PHOENIX FLOWER: St Helena ebony (picture: Shelco)

The landscaping strategy is based on mapping of pristine endemic vegetation (found nowhere else in the world) by Cambridge researcher Quentin Cronk.

He was with islander George Benjamin when he rediscovered the St Helena ebony, which had been thought to be extinct.

For the native plants and trees to be re-established, “aggressive” species such as flax – which also harbours rats – would have to be cleared.

For the first few years of the resort development, though, existing non-native woodland will be kept. Tall, mature trees will continue to provide nesting sites for fairy terns.

Exotic forestry areas could be thinned and underplanted with gumwood trees and endemic plants such as rosemary, bellflower and false gumwood.

Will this be the site of the world’s greenest hotel?
George Benjamin: the man who saved the St Helena ebony
The gloves are on: governor joins fight against invasives
Champagne launch for the Department of Everything – new environment directorate

Wirebird Hills main planning report – Shelco (warning: 80MB file)
St Helena National Trust

Will this be the site of the world’s greenest hotel?

View across Broad Bottom, with the pointed summit of High Peak behind
HOW GREEN WILL YOUR VALLEY BE? An eco golf course and resort are planned for Broad Bottom (picture: John Grimshaw)

St Helena’s humble wirebird may help developers create “the world’s greenest hotel” on the mellow slopes of Broad Bottom.

Plans for the so-called Wirebird Hills leisure resort – complete with eco-friendly golf course – are going on show on the island after more than a decade of refinement by the St Helena Leisure Corporation (Shelco).

screen shot of Shelco's environmental impact statement opening page
GREEN PAPER: Shelco’s environmental statement runs to 82 pages

Features such as grass roofs and water recycling are now being used widely in new buildings around the world. But the ideas for protecting the wirebird and re-establishing native trees and plants are what set the scheme apart.

They include trying to control rats, which steal wirebird eggs and prey on their chicks. Broad Bottom is one of the last strongholds of the unique St Helena Plover, as it is also known, but no chicks were successfully raised in the area in 2011, and predators are probably to blame.

Sheep would be used to graze the golf course and other land, to bring grass down to the length favoured by wirebirds.

An environmental impact assessment says there would be no “significant adverse impact” from any aspect of the scheme, even to the island’s landscape. Buildings would largely be confined to the edges of the site, where they can be screened with trees.

Plans submitted by the St Helena Leisure Corporation (Shelco) also include growing more fresh food for the whole island, as well as for the proposed 88-suite hotel and 165 holiday homes.

They also deal with historical aspects of the site, which was used as a camp for Boer War prisoners between 1899 and 1903. An interpretation centre and cafe is planned at the top of the site.

The former flax mill at Broad Bottom Farm has been earmarked as a maintenance building for the golf course. Machinery from the mill would be donated for a proposed “flax visitor centre” elsewhere on the island – though there is scepticism about whether this “private sector opportunity” will ever be realised.

The plans are to go on show at public meetings across the island from 14 May 2012:

  • Blue Hill Community Centre, Monday, 5.30 – 7.30pm
  • Half Tree Hollow Community Centre, Tuesday, 5 – 7pm
  • Longwood Community Centre, Wednesday, 5 – 7pm
  • Consulate Hotel, Jamestown, Thursday 5 – 7pm

An 82-page document sets out details of the proposed golf course, swimming pools, tennis courts, market garden, buggy paths, holiday villages, lemon groves and a “Garden of Eden”.

It follows the signing of a “memorandum of agreement” with St Helena Government, setting out a detailed brief for the standards that must be met on the site.

The plans do not say what would happen to people living in the two existing homes on the 163-hectare site, or how it will affect people who cross the land to reach their houses.

Nor do they say whether facilities would be open to islanders and other people not staying in the resort.

Shelco was set up to exploit the economic potential of the island, based on building an airport – a contract it failed to win. Its plans for one of two luxury resorts on the island are seen as vital to creating a vibrant tourist economy and ending decades of dependence on aid.

Its chairman is Sir Nigel Thompson, a senior figure in engineering firm Ove Arup but also a keen environmentalist who has served as chair of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

He first fell in love with St Helena half a century ago when travelling on a liner that stopped in James Bay, according to an article in Property Week.

The main report from Shelco’s consultants says:

Wirebird Hills at Broad Bottom seeks to deliver a development of international best practice for environmental responsibility and sustainability.

The overall intent is to deliver the world’s greenest hotel, with environmentally responsible leisure-related residences around a world class eco golf course.

The Wirebird Hills at Broad Bottom… will be an exemplar project on the world stage.

It is hoped that further details of the scheme – including images of the proposed buildings – will appear on this website in coming days.


Looks like a lovely plan – I hope it is made. Hee Young Ra, via Facebook

Champagne launch for the Department of Everything – St Helena’s environment directorate
‘Eco resort’ moves a step closer in wirebird valley
Do the maths, says economist: tourists equal millions
New planning rules protect island

Shelco – moving forward (new agreement on Broad Bottom development)
Eco resort planned for St Helena (Property Week)

Help wanted: can you identify these old St Helena pictures?

Sergeant Arthur Jones is in the back row, far left

Sergeant Arthur Jones brought home a souvenir of his days guarding prisoners of war on St Helena – an album of photographs. Many years later, his son presented the pictures to his old regiment’s museum.

The photographs of Boer War prisoners from 1900-1902 – along with some local scenes – have since been published on the internet. But Peter Donnelly, curator of the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum in Lancaster, UK, needs help identifying some of the places in the photographs.

“Any help anyone can give with captions and stories is most welcome and
appreciated,” he says. “I have found some references about the period, but not very much.  Whilst we have the excellent album from Sergeant Jones, we know little of what he did there – which is a great shame.”

Sergeant Jones did not travel out to the island with the rest of his regiment. “There is no record of any other King’s Own soldier serving on the island,” says Mr Donnelly.

The King's Own museum needs information about Sergeant Jones's photographs

“I very much doubt if Sergeant Jones took the photographs himself. I assume he either bought the photographs or bought the entire album.

“I am sure a similar album was sold a few years ago, possibly in Hampshire.”

Sergeant Jones’s album is now safely in store, with all the images – about 100 of them – posted on the museum website.

Visit a gallery of sample pictures here – with a contact form for sending information.

See all the pictures on the museum’s own website, here.

‘Eco resort’ moves a step closer in wirebird valley

Efforts to create an “eco friendly” tourist resort in St Helena have cleared another hurdle, with the signing of a new agreement that promises work and housing for islanders.

The scheme involves a luxury hotel and spa, a golf course and tourist chalets at Broad Bottom – one of the prime breeding sites of the island’s vulnerable wirebird, which is found nowhere else in the world.

The population of the bird – also known as the St Helena Plover – has now risen above the official “endangered” mark, but the St Helena National Trust has warned that its numbers could fall because of future tourism developments.

The government says the resort must be built “in an environmentally highly sensitive way with a focus on blending with the countryside and its ecology, and having a low carbon footprint.”

The St Helena Leisure Corporation Ltd (Shelco) still has to gain formal planning consent for the development. The UK-based company must then apply for an “immigrant landholding licence” before it can buy land for the resort.

The government says it is “not in any way obliged to grant development permission.”

Its statement says:

“By providing up-market tourist accommodation with ‘green’ environmentally-friendly credentials, the Shelco project could become an important component of the current work to develop St Helena’s economy.

“The agreement includes a commitment by Shelco to use its best endeavours to employ a St Helenian workforce, while providing appropriate training and housing for its employees.

“Similarly, in operating the resort Shelco has committed to endeavour to source food and consumables from St Helena.”

An agreement to progress the resort project was signed by then-governor Andrew Gurr in May 2008, after legal advice over objections to the scheme.

An updated contract was signed on 10 April 2012 to fit in with reforms to the island’s policies and laws, required by the UK government in return for funding for the airport.

They include a new land development control plan, approved by councillors on 22 March 2012. Three weeks after the decision, details have yet to be made public.

Once the Broad Bottom planning application has been submitted – along with a study on its likely impact on the environment – islanders will be given 28 days to make comments on it. The detailed scheme must fit in with special policies laid down for building at Broad Bottom.

It will then be considered by the planning board in a public session. Consent will only be given with a “comprehensive” set of strict conditions.

The process is closely modelled on the long-established system in the UK.

Shelco has been pressing for the chance to invest in St Helena for more than a decade, since it first offered to build an airport for the island. The contract for that project eventually went to South African firm Basil Read, which started construction work in January.

A copy of the new memorandum of agreement is to be placed on the SHG website.

New planning rules protect island – but what are they?


Wirebird: endangered species consultation (scroll down for St Helena National Trust view)
St Helena Government