St Helena Online

Tag: Shelco

Which comes first: the airline, or the eco resort?

Enterprise St Helena is locked in a “chicken and egg” stand-off with Shelco over its planned Wirebird Hill resort, according to Britain’s Financial Times newspaper.

Writer Horatio Clare says that St Helena – “perhaps the strangest of tropical islands” – may be about to experience “one of the world’s most unlikely investment booms.”

But while the island’s airport is under construction, the luxury eco resort at Broad Bottom is not.

“ESH… wants Shelco to commit to building their hotel so that an airline might commit for flights,” writes Clare. “Shelco wants ESH to produce an airline before they begin work on the hotel.”

St Helena Online has previously reported Shelco’s insistence on flights from Europe, which at one stage looked unlikely.

The FT also quotes Julian Morris, head of economic development, on the need for tourism: “I don’t think the island’s situation is very good,” he says. “Average wage £6,000, hospital’s poor, school’s extremely poor, 20 per cent of kids have got at least one parent working overseas.

“The island is earning £2 per person per day from its own activities, so we would  be one of the poorest places in Africa, and yet you drive around and it feels  like it’s a slightly poorer version of the UK.”

In fact, educational standards are reported to be rising rapidly, both at primary school and GCSE level – albeit from a very low base.

The article also quotes a visiting South African businessman, Duncan Grindley, who arrived anticipating “massive opportunity” for tented camps and walking tours.

By the end of the week, his attitude had changed, he told the FT: “Walking tours are out – you go 5km and you might as well have gone 50 because of the gradients.”

Read the full article here.

SEE ALSO: Doubt over eco resort as Shelco seeks direct flights from Europe

Pilots bid to give St Helena its own airline

Pilots in the UK are hoping to set up a dedicated airline for St Helena.

The team behind Atlantic Star Airlines has already been in talks with the Department for International Development and the island’s eco resort developer, Shelco.

Its existence has been known to some islanders for some time, but it was made public on Saint FM in an interview with Linda Houston of Shelco.

She said: “Atlantic Star are a team that have been interested in air access to St Helena since, I believe, 2003.

“They are very hungry to have an opportunity to pitch for this contract. They are linked up with a number of people in the air industry.

“I am reluctant to say too much because I know DFID will be having some tender process. We have to be careful on that, there will be other potential operators.

“We are talking to Atlantic Star because they approached us for information about numbers of customers and things like that. It shows a lot of initiative on their part.

“We are very supportive of what they are wanting to do. We are quite keen on the concept they have and they believe it’s viable to fly from the UK via Europe to St Helena and include flights to the Cape and to Ascension and maybe even to the Falklands, although that always seems to be a little bit trickier because of the distance.”

Home-grown roofing; just the business for an eco Saint

The walls might be imported from overseas, but the roofing for the new Wirebird Hills hotel will be truly St Helenian. It’s to be grown on the island.

And Linda Houston, of developer Shelco, says it could turn into a truly green business for an enterprising Saint.

The idea of a “living roof”, with plants providing insulation, was a key part of the eco-credentials for the planned luxury resort.

There was also a plan to grow hemp on the island and turn it into a green building material for the walls, but Shelco has now decided to have much of the building pre-fabricated overseas.

Linda told Saint FM: “There are certain things you can’t prefabricate, and green rooves is one, because we will be using indiginous plants.

“I had hoped – sadly, have failed – to have some matting brought out on the ship with me so we could start work on this now.

“We have a company that specialises in this in the UK that we are talking to. They will give me a more of a briefing and I will talk to people here, and we will work out how we can try this out.

“I am keen we do a bit of trial work on island before the development gets going, and I believe this could be a cottage industry for somebody, to offer green rooves to clients across the island.”

New Cable & Wireless deal heralds mobile phones

Mobile phone masts could soon be springing up across St Helena (except on the bits that are to have wind turbines).

On Tuesday, 26 June 2012, executive councillors agreed the terms of a new telecommunications licence that should bring mobile phone technology to Jamestown, Half Tree Hollow and – who knows? – maybe even Sandy Bay.

“Full details of the agreement will be announced shortly,” reported governor Mark Capes, “but it combines price reductions with a significant improvement in services and new investment to allow for the introduction of mobile phones.”

If the Oberoi luxury hotel group agrees to run Shelco’s hotel at Broad Bottom, it will certainly want the kind of phone technology it already uses in some of the poorest parts of the world.

For Basil Read, it will be too late: there are no telephones out on Prosperous Bay Plain, where it will be building the island’s airport for the next three years, so it has brought in its own mobile phone equipment, linked to a service provider in South Africa.

And for Johnny Clingham, a St Helenian telecoms expert based in the UK, mobile phone coverage may not be enough to bring him home.

“I think it’s something that we need to have that would be beneficial,” said Johnny, speaking from Amsterdam, where he was on a trip to research high-speed communication. “But it’s the internet we want improvement on.

“We need to see what the improvements are. Until we see the full report on what they are going to get and whether other providers will come in, we don’t know whether it’s going to meet our needs.

“Mobile phones are great, but the quality of internet service is what we need.”

Cable & Wireless has exclusive contracts to provide communications and a TV service on St Helena. At a recent executive council (ExCo) meeting, councillors voiced disquiet about the service, and the high price of phone calls and a very slow internet connection.

The company’s licences expire on 31 December 2012.

Governor Capes said lengthy negotiations gained momentum when the UK government agreed to fund the island’s airport.

“That decision means that the future market for telecoms on St Helena looks much more attractive for Cable & Wireless,” he said. “Subject to a few minor amendments, ExCo approved the licences.”

COMMENT:

Living here for the last couple of months it’s been quite a treat NOT to have the mobile going and feel the ‘need’ to check the phone every 5 minutes. Over dinner the other night we all agreed that the lack of smart phones in particular was a good thing – there was no anti-social updating of Facebook or Twitter. Shock, horror…you actually spoke to the people you were out with. I guess progress comes with a price though?

– Suzie Pearson, St Helena
Three months on St Helena – blog

SEE ALSO:
‘Very high’ telecom charges prompt council debate

LINK:
Cable & Wireless St Helena

What the nurse said to the governor: Andrew Gurr looks back

When Andrew Gurr arrived on St Helena in 2007 as the first governor to be appointed through open competition, he found an island civil service that was financially adrift. It needed to undergo surgery – and so, later on, did Mr Gurr himself. In the fourth and final extract of an address to the Friends of St Helena, he reflects on changes made in his four years living in the governor’s mansion, and on some of the possibilities for the future – including a boarding school for rich South Africans, and even a space station. 

See also parts one, two and three.

On government accounting

During my time we made some important changes. The accounting system was really pretty awful: good, old-fashioned Victorian accounting. Cash accounting – penny in, penny out. No concept of time in the management of money throughout the whole civil service.

And over the last four years we put in accrual accounting.

[St Helena Online note: cash accounting records transactions only when money actually comes in or goes out. But many deals – including DfID funding – involve payments in the future. Accrual accounting includes these future payments (in and out) to give a better picture of finances. It is complex and costly to set up, but is used by nearly all but the smallest businesses].

The Foreign Office said it was not worth doing, but then, they said that in the Falklands but we did it in the Falklands and it undoubtedly was worth doing. It improves your management of funds and it means people begin to develop an awareness of the value of money over time, which is very very significant if you are going to manage it.

On media

We put in place a plan for re-aligning the media. That’s still going on, isn’t it?

The silly situation was we had two media organisations and the government was funding both, and it really wasn’t necessary.

Okay, we weren’t funding the Independent to the same extent we were funding the Herald, but councillors were getting increasingly restless, as indeed DfID was, about the fact that the two papers were so similar – and the two radio stations were so similar.

So that, I think, has been dealt with.

[St Helena Online note: Mike Olsson, who oversees both the St Helena Independent and Saint FM radio station, insists that the newspaper received no subsidy, though some content was directly funded. The St Helena Herald closed in March and was replaced in the same month by the government-funded Sentinel, which – unlike the Herald – was allowed to compete with the privately-owned Independent for advertising. Since Mr Gurr gave his talk, Mike Olsson has applied to run further radio stations in competition with three being set up by the St Helena Broadcasting Corporation, which publishes The Sentinel].

On advisers’ reports

Reports are difficult, because a consultant can come and make recommendations and then we will say to DfID, “Okay, let’s have the money to put this into practice.” “Oh, we haven’t got the money.”

About half of them, I would say, you cannot take forward because you haven’t got the resources to take forward what the consultant might be recommending, or you have to wait to do it.

And as I said when I talked about consultants, some are excellent, some aren’t. The ones who succeed are normally the ones you work with, so they leave behind people who have inculcated what they are saying and carry it forward. We don’t do enough about that: it’s a kind of, “the report is for DfID, not for St Helena” type of attitude.

It’s not a perfect situation, by any means.

On new economic opportunities

There are some very good ideas that have been around.

One, I think, is education: boarding schools for South African kids. A lot of people would like an English education for their children – people who live in South Africa. It would bring in staff, it would bring in activies, and that would be very good.

[There could be] all sorts of academic things – a marine laboratory, like what the Norwegians did with Spitzbergen, a coal mining island in the Arctic. It has become such a centre of excellence that it pays for itself.

On everyone knowing everyone… and what the nurse said to Mr Gurr

There are many things that St Helena is a good research environment for.

Not least is this non-anonymity thing. It astonishes me. People, when my grandfather was alive, if they had been to the next village they would stand in the village hall and tell everbody about it. It would be a big deal. It’s like that in St Helena still.

That lack of anonymity impacts on the police service, on the medical service. The nurse tending your bed when you’re sitting there in pain: you know her and you know her children and you know her way of life, and she knows you.

I went in for a rather nasty exploratory operation and the nurse said to me: “Don’t you worry, I see everything and I see nothing.” [laughter] I thought, that’s nice.

On Ascension as a space centre

An idea I touted round is Ascension as a space centre. If you are going to take off from a runway to get into space, which will happen, you have got to be near the equator because you have a better launch speed and it’s cheaper to get into orbit from the equator. And you have got to be somewhere that’s secure.

It seemed to me [Ascension is] the place where the West has the longest runway in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s near the equator.

On exploiting isolation

St Helena has always paid its way when its isolation and position is worth something to somebody. Unless you major on that isolation as being the thing that is going to deliver, you are copying somewhere else that can do it cheaper. So you are looking for things that have that special characteristic.

On Plantation House

It’s iconic, isn’t it, Plantation?

I was looking at a country house and thought, “I wish I lived in a house like that – and I did! I had so much junk I could fill every room. I would say, “Do I mind living all by myself in a big house?” And I didn’t: it was really quite easy.

Having staff was a new experience for us. It’s not that easy. Suddenly the house isn’t just yours: there are people who think it’s theirs too. It’s their workplace and you have to take that into account every day.

The kitchen was a disgrace in my view – a health risk – and we had it refurbished into a modern kitchen.

On the late Bobby Robertson, councillor and fund-raiser

One of the great privileges of being governor is the entertaining. We had a dinner for Bobby Robertson and Dulcie on their 60th wedding anniversary and do you know, Bobby never said a word against me in council after that. It was one of the shrewdest dinners I ever gave.

On the late Sharon Wainwright
[Sharon was air access co-ordinator for St Helena; she died suddenly while in London, helping press the case for an airport, in August 2011]

She was a wonderful person to work with. I had a weekly chat with her: she was a great communicator and a very good man manager. She ran what she did well, she got things done – a priceless individual, sadly missed.

On the Friends of St Helena

Those people need the support here that you give them. They are very grateful for that. It’s very much in the interest of St Helena that this organisation, the Friends, exists.

On the future

We were trying, in our time, to move the island towards self-sufficiency and maintain the balance of interest. And it is about balance.

The situation is that the airport [contract] is signed, the ship’s capacity is being increased, there’s a sensible political structure, there’s better systems in the civil service. I think the private sector is getting increasingly engaged and people are getting excited about the airport.

Whether the future is bright or not I don’t know. I think it’s better, however you look at it, than the past; it’s better than it would have been but it’s still up to the Saints to grasp the opportunities that are there.

And they are there now, real opportunities, with – how many? – 170 people working on the airport or airport-related things. That will increase over the next few years.

Shelco are going to take a lot of people into that hotel and housing complex, so all that is going to be brighter, without any question.

On being remembered

Part of me says I would love people to say, “Well, he did a good job”, and part of me says, does it matter in the long run? I will just be a name on a wall or a fading photograph.

I enjoyed it. It was a tremendously enriching exerience and very colourful, and I will always have fond memories of it. But how people remember me depends on what people remember, and who’s telling them to remember it.

I loved the place, I love the people, but your time comes, you do your four years and you leave it. You have fond memories and life moves on.

(One or two of Andrew Gurr’s reflections from his talk to the Friends of St Helena in May 2012 have been kept back as stories in their own right, and will appear shortly. A gallery of his photographs may also appear soon).

SEE ALSO:

The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr
Experts, expats and what England expects: a governor’s view, part 2
Civil service versus the can-do culture: a governor’s view

Media
Slavery
Foreign Secretary ‘wants hands-on help for islands’ – report

LINK:
Friends of St Helena

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.”

SEE ALSO:
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?

Experts, expats and what England expects: a governor’s view, part 2

Andrew Gurr, immediate past governor of St Helena, has been sharing his insights from his recent four-year stint behind the big desk in The Castle in Jamestown. See part one of his talk to the Friends of St Helena here. In part two, below, he talks about attitudes to expats, experts, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and about his favourite adviser.

On Eddie Palmer of DFID

Probably the most valuable meeting of the week is the tele conference with London. That is a weekly hook-up for the governor and Eddie and Ernie. Ernie was the head of my governor’s office, a Foreign Office employee, and Eddie was the DFID representative on the island.

Eddie was my favourite adviser for all sorts of reasons (at this point, Mr Gurr broke off to general laughter and said to his wife in the audience: “Well, Jean, you are my favourite adviser, I hasten to add.”).

Eddie filled a big gap because DFID provided the money and Eddie understanding what was going on and influencing what was going on and being consulted on decisions was absolutely essential.

The need for a man in that role, or a woman, who is a shrewd political operator and understands the culture, is absolutely paramount. It will be a sad day for the island when Eddie finishes his long term, probably later this year.

So we had the three of us sitting round the phone on the island, and back in London you had both the Foreign Office and DFID people responsible, probably three or four of them.

When DfID was just across the park that was easy. they did it by week, one walked to one office and the other walked to the other one. Now the DFID overseas territory bit is right up in Scotland and they can’t do that and you have a very difficult three-way telephone link that doesn’t always work.

That was a vital weekly communication that I found extremely useful.

On FCO types

I was fortunate, I think, not to be an FCO person, for all sorts of reasons. I was recruited from outside. I was told no other governor had been recruited anywhere in that way. They had been appointed from outside but not through open competitive recruitment.

One finds with people who are in an organisation a long time, their loyalty is primarily to that organisation. I was able, I hope, to be loyal to the island every bit as much as I wouldbe loyal to my employer. Spanning that divide is quite important.

There is a conflict of interest, I think one has to admit it, between HMG [the UK government] and the island. The conflict is that HMG’s job is to fulfil international obligations at a minimal cost to the UK government, whereas the island wants to improve quality of life and maintain its culture, and those two things are not totally compatible. And all the time, the governor is spanning that conflict.

On FCO versus DFID

The other conflict is FCO and DFID. They are different types of people.

Generally speaking you join the Foreign Office because you want to see the world. If you speak to youngsters who are lining up in corridors for interview, that is generally what they want to do.

People join DFID because they want to help alleviate starvation in Africa. You get a different motivation in the staff. It’s a general rule and it doesn’t apply to everybody, but as a generality I think it’s a fair comment.

That translates itself into, let’s say, the talkers and the doers – you can see the difference – or the compromisers and the decision makers.

On bureaucracy

In my first year I was really taken aback by the fact that I was asked do my objectives. So I did my objectives and handed them in.

I think the Foreign Office were the first to send me a request for objectives. I sent the same set of objectives to DFID.

They said, ‘You can’t send us this, these are your Foreign Office objectives. I said ‘Yes, but I’m not going to change my objectives.’ And they said, ‘Never mind that, you have to do them in our format, in our way with our back-up papers.’

“This is ridiculous. Nobody should have two sets of objectives. That kind of thing does create a problem.”

On finance

There was quite a problem with the bank. Nobody owned the bank. When we came to look at the details of the bank and how we were going to run it, there were no shares that anybody owned. As a legal entity it has no ownership and the default is the government because the government would be lender of last resort.

We had to set up a structure whereby there was a proper form of ownership. It cleared up all sorts of problems which needn’t have existed.

On expats

Another problem is the Saints versus the expats. Or translated in the Falklands, the Falkland Islander against expats. The view of an expat from your average Saint of Falkland Islander is the three Ms: missionaries, mercenarys and misfits. I have to admit there’s something in that.

With all the conflicts you come across, this island against expert knowledge is always going to be there. Sometimes the islander is right and sometimes the expat is right, and it’s awfully difficult to make a judgment on that.

There is a wary envy of the expat. It’s entirely understandable.

On experts

Consultants and experts: you can get brilliant ones, and many of them are brilliant and  you can get one not so brilliant. It’s quite wrong of Saints to criticise all of them, which does happen, and it’s equally wrong to praise all of them. It has to be looked at against what they deliver.

There’s also a problem with the single consultant, because DFID has experts in each area – education, health, public works. One expert. So one expert comes to the island and writes a report that becomes DFID’s policy; that becomes absolutely the bible as far as DFID is concerned.

Imagine getting one economist to advise you on what’s happening to the Eurozone. Very often problems are like that. And that one expert can be wrong.

I would rather get people disagreeing in a room before one has to make a decision, rather than a single person giving a view. I think that is a big weakness of the present system.

On experts with doctorates

[Experts with doctorates – PhDs] are the most difficult people on Earth of work with.

We didn’t know what they didn’t know. They didn’t know what they did know, so they assumed other people knew what they knew and they couldn’t relate. Whereas the problem with islanders was that they didn’t know what they didn’t know, so they thought what they knew was what needed to be known, but there was other knowledge out there that didn’t need to be known. It was the reverse with the PhDs.

On the environment

Another area of tension is environment against development. How are you going to balance the genuine economic growth that is needed, against the wirebird, and against other invertebrates and goodness-knows-what that might be threatened?

I have been out there on Prosperous Bay Plain, in fact I was out there with the head of the Overseas Territories Department in the FCO when he visited, looking at the spiders in the dark and seeing this amazing display as their eyes light up as you shine a torch on them.

It’s fantastic and I wouldn’t want that to be damaged for anything, but compared with £20 million plus every year going out of the UK’s pocket to finance the island that’s got no chance of development without an airport, it’s got to be a no-contest.

This business of environment against development really does need a fair balance and a lot of work has been done by Shelco [the promoter of Wirebird Hills eco resort] on that.

On Shelco and the airport

During my time we made some important changes. The change process started. The fight for the airport; a very long, hard fight. Many of you [the Friends of St Helena] played a vital role in that here, and it was very important because the fight really was here for a long time.

Keeping Shelco interested: now they are interested, but there were several times when they nearly lost interest and one had to really cajole them to come back on board with their significant interest.

Part 3 of Andrew Gurrs thoughts on St Helena will appear on this website on Sunday 10 June 2012

SEE ALSO:
The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr
Planning board backs eco resort – but Governor has final say

The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr

While cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell was in Swindolena in May 2012, telling Saints about their island’s bright opportunities, Andrew Gurr was just 30 miles away in Oxford, sharing insights from his four years as governor (2007-2011). The two men were speaking at exactly the same time.

A recording of Mr Gurr’s talk has now been passed to St Helena Online, with some parts removed to avoid offending individuals. Here are some of the insights he offered, as he delivered them at the annual meeting of the Friends of St Helena. More will follow in coming days.

On the Foreign Office

It is a fascinating place to visit. I got a bit fed up with it but there’s some interesting rooms there. One of the most fascinating is a small oval room. During most of my time as governor it was the room in which the junior ministers with specific responsibility for British overseas territories had their office. In prior times the whole of India had been run from that room, so quite an amazing place.

On Mrs Gurr

It’s a great privilege being a governor. I must pay tribute to my wife right at the beginning. Being a governor’s wife is, believe me, quite difficult. A governor’s wife does all sorts of interesting things. She feeds another stream of information into one’s reserves of information about the government that you would not otherwise get, and I felt sorry for my predecessor, who wasn’t accompanied by his wife, for that reason. Being a governor’s wife is a full time job, absolutely unpaid.

On the islands

Being governor seems to me to be different, depending on the territory. The whole role changes. We were in the Falklands for five years, where I was chief executive. When the governor was away I acted as governor.  That added up to over 12 months, so I had a rough idea of what being a governor was about.

I believe when I went to St Helena the governor had considerably more power and influence than they had when I left the Falklands. There are a number of reasons for that. Having three islands made life more complicated: three very different islands economically. St Helena was broke financially and needed a lot of help.

Ascension kind of covered its own costs because it was a dignified and souped-up labour camp, because you can’t really live there unless you are working there.

And Tristan da Cunha is absolutely unique. My conclusion, having been there, is that it is probably one of the few truly communist societies in the world that actually works. They really do work for each other and it is part of their whole psyche, and that’s terribly interesting.

Saints dominate St Helena and Ascension too, and increasingly they have a big influence on things in the Falklands, but the Falklands economically dominate the other islands because of the conflict of ’82 and the military and the squid money that flows, up to £30 million a year. And they have just had a very good year in the Falklands.

So there is a lot of inter-relationship between four very different islands, and as governor of three of them one has quite a complicated time.

On power

By power I mean influence, really, and trying to make things happen and indeed having the levers to pull to do that.

My predecessor Mike Clancy had been a chief secretary in a previous existence and I think it led him quite naturally to cover both roles.

There was a kind of vacuum where there wasn’t the duality that you would get, say, in a corporate organisation with a chairman – the governor – and the chief executive as main  operating officer.  That really didn’t exist, so I went into a situation on St Helena where the governor actually just jumped into a power vacuum.

Isolation of course helped that – or didn’t help it, depending on your point of view – but when your boss is 4,000 miles away and can’t get at you for at least three weeks, however he does it, you are on to a winner.

On democracy

I have to say that democracy was less  developed that it had become on the Falklands. The councillors, although they had democratic power, were more reticent to wield it. They had no control of real happenings; not in total, anyway. There was big area of the civil service over which they had very little influence indeed.

On the law

There are quite a few laws that are wildly out of date, and some that are quite different to UK laws and tailored to the island.

The governor is in the unviable position of presiding over a legal system that does not have equality of arms in the court room, and there’s very little one can do about that because there is no private sector solicitor on the island, so who is going to defend those who are being prosecuted by the government?

The answer is the lay advocates, and the lay advocates are trained and managed by the public solicitor. The public solicitor is a government appointment; the public solicitor reports to the governor and so does the Attorney General.

So you have this rather unequal combat in a courtroom with lay people defending, professional QCs [barristers] prosecuting and the governor somehow in the middle if there is a problem with that; but not directly in the middle because a lot of the reporting from the legal side is done informallyand certainly very effectively.

I praise all the public solicitors I dealt with. Neil Davidson and the new one, Debbie, are both tremendous and do a great job with the lay advocates.

(Mr Gurr told St Helena Online: “I would be full of praise for those who acted as lay advocates, but the fact remains that you have a QC prosecuting and an amateur defending, and under anybody’s judgment that is not a fair position. I don’t know how you solve it: you can’t spend money.”

On recruitment

There’s a recruitment problem. The governor is responsible for individual appointments  and sackings – not many – on the civil service.

Imagine trying to recruit doctors and nurses from that distance. Believe me,  interviewing over a jumpy video link is really not a good thing. On meeting them on island, you don’t recognise them at all – they look nothing like they do on the screen.

On the missing population

One of the big problems, thinking about the people in the civil service and the private sector, is a lack of middle managemen;  indeed, the lack of middle, because demographically, half of the population who should be there between the ages of 20 and 40 are somewhere else – they are here [in the UK], on the Falklands, or on Ascension.

Tose are years when you generate wealth, when you breed children and they are mising and that core of the population of St Helena not being there puts it out of balance.

That’s one of the big things about the airport, sucking people back in, to get back to a demographically balanced picture on the island.

On advisory group

When I got [to St Helena] there had been a lot of criticism about a group called the management team, because it was accused of making decisions, which was unconstitutional, so we disbanded it.

A clamour of public opinion was reacted to and I formed what I called the governor’s advisory group, which was more flexible.

On women

One of the things that astonished me… I looked round my advisers and nearly all of them were female, and it really says a great deal about the island and the ability of the ladies to get through the work. They are very competent.

I have to say it, that the men aren’t as competent generally. I hate to say it. I wish they were. There was something of the same on the Falklands – not as much as on St Helena.

It’s partly to do with schooling and culture and all sorts of things but it’s an interesting observation.

(In a separate conversation, Mr Gurr said: “I think it makes a nonsense of the Commonwealth people coming and talking about how we have to help girls. They are in charge.”)

SEE ALSO:
What really swung the airport deal (it’s not what you think)
Facebook page calls for more open government
AUDIO: DfID Secretary on island’s “brilliant opportunity”

LINK:
Friends of St Helena

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!”

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

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

RSPB objects to Shelco resort over wirebird doubts

Disputes have broken out among bird experts over plans to build “the world’s greenest hotel” on St Helena, including an eco-golf course.

A formal objection to the resort has been lodged by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – even though the scheme seeks to end the failure of wirebird breeding at the Broad Bottom site.

No chicks were successfully raised there in the last breeding season, despite it being the third-largest nesting area on the island. Rats and poor habitat are blamed.

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

St Helena National Trust (SHNT)  has also objected to the planning application for the Wirebird Hills resort at Broad Bottom, which includes an 88-suite hotel and 165 lodges built to high eco standards.

The RSPB said it was not convinced Shelco’s plans to create new habitat would work.

But Shelco consultant Dr Keith Duff said it was “worrying” that the objectors made no mention of the recent failure of any chicks to survive.

His report says Broad Bottom has not been managed in a way that protects the birds:

  • Grazing only by cattle means grass is too long for birds to nest in
  • Only 20 per cent of grazed land is suitable for nesting at any time
  • There are too many rats, which take eggs and kill chicks
  • Scrub that harbours rats has been allowed to spread

Both Dr Burns and Dr Fiona Burns of the RSPB said they did not blame the decline on St Helena Government, which is responsible for rodent control, or Solomons, which grazes cattle on the land.

A block of blue rat poison in a plastic case - a bait station
Rat poison stations would be set up around Broad Bottom (picture: Shelco)

The Shelco scheme involves fencing off a sanctuary on the existing Wirebird Ground area, and creating areas of “rough” alongside the golf fairways that it says would be suitable for nesting.

The RSPB said it did not believe the St Helena Plover, as the bird is also known, would nest close to playing areas.

Dr Fiona Burns, who works for the charity, said: “It’s really positive that a company is coming in and trying to make an environmentally-friendly development because we could be getting just anybody.

“It’s a good way to have tourism, but as it stands we don’t think it’s quite good enough, but we are keen to work with them to make it better.”

It has welcomed plans to clear flax, gorse and other scrub that has spread at Sebastop0l and Ding Dong Gut – potentially harbouring rats.

Aerial view overlaid with coloured blocks indicating scrub clearance areas
Scrub clearance is planned over large parts of the Wirebird Hills site (picture: Shelco)

But Dr Burns – who gained her doctorate last year for her research on the island – said the RSPB was not convinced the land-clearance would create much extra habitat.

She said: “For a lot of the area where they were proposing to remove scrub, there is also a proposal to have woodland lodges, so the area remaining for wirebirds would be small.

“It could help wirebirds but it will not balance out the area that will be impacted by the golf fairways.

“And because it’s a phased development, it’s not certain they would build these lodges. It’s not guaranteed what area would be available for wirebirds.”

Shelco’s 82-page planning paper describes how a naturalistic golf course would improve breeding habitat for wirebirds.

Scrub and flax spreading over the hillside below High Peak
Scrub and flax harbour rats and invade wirebird habitat (picture: Shelco)

It says avoiding heavy use of chemicals on the land would ensure a good supply of invertebrates for wirebirds to feed on.

The site would include fenced-off areas that would be grazed by sheep, to keep the grass short enough for nesting. It is thought wirebirds choose to nest where they can keep watch for predators, but grazing by cattle alone leaves grass too long.

But Dr Burns said evidence from Longwood golf course cast doubt on the idea that wirebirds would nest close to fairways.

“Although it is used for foraging, especially at night, it is not used as a breeding area,” she said.

“The thing we could do is to try to change a bit of the design to have a more substantial area of less disturbed ground. Or maybe we’d have to look at improving an area elsewhere to mitigate for the impact on the site itself.”

Shelco’s adviser, however, said the Broad Bottom course would be much larger, which much bigger areas of rough – “rougher and higher” – so there would be far more undisturbed ground.

And there was concern from the RSPB and the St Helena National Trust about whether all Shelco’s promises would be delivered.

“The final thing about [Shelco’s] environmental statement is that it hasn’t got a lot of guarantees about what will happen – we are keen to know what they will do for predator control, how long they will do it for, how wide an area.

“One of the things we would be looking for is some sort of monitoring – or if the plan didn’t work, what would be the repercussions?”

But Dr Duff told St Helena Online: “All of these areas of detail will be covered in the environmental management plan, which will be the subject of a planning condition if consent for the development is granted.”

Shelco’s planning consent would be invalid if it did not meet all the conditions imposed by the planning board – even once the resort was built.

“The plan would not be signed off by the planners until they were satisfied with it, and would be monitored to ensure it is being implemented.”

The “detailed” management plan would cover “predator control, scrub removal and a grazing regime aimed at significantly increasing the area of grassland in suitable condition for wirebird breeding.

“These actions would be funded by Shelco, so represent a major commitment of private sector resources to go into conservation work on the site.

“We have already made clear that we want to work with St Helena National Trust officers in developing the environmental management plan.”

Shelco’s proposals have been based on advice from the Trust.

Dr Duff – who worked with the RSPB to write a book on birds and golf courses – said he did not accept that wirebirds would not nest on parts of the Broad Bottom course.

“I would be surprised if wirebirds did not use the rough for nesting, as these areas will be open-range sheep-grazed, which will produce a shorter sward than exists on much of the site at any one time at present.

“The overall area which would be suitable for wirebird breeding under the grazing scheme proposed by Shelco is three times larger than the area currently in suitable condition at any one time.

“Shelco have chosen to rename their development ‘Wirebird Hills’, which seems to me to reflect their determination to make sure that the site remains an important wirebird site into the future.

“They would hardly want to use a name which could come back to haunt them.”

SEE ALSO:
Decline that led to wirebird breeding failure
Endemics for sale: St Helena’s new cash crop?
Will this be the site of the world’s greenest hotel?

LINKS:
Wirebird Hills main planning report – Shelco (warning: 80MB file)
RSPB
St Helena National Trust
Dr Fiona Burns’ wirebird research thesis

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