Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Jamestown St Helena: 20/20 Vision

In prime position at meeting at the Consulate Hotel, Jamestown

Towards the end of our recent visit to St Helena my wife and I attended a meeting to discuss the 20/20 Vision for Jamestown, a bulky document, costing £30, which I suspect few had read. The audience was large by St Helena standards - well over 100.

Wharf Area Jamestown

The document's purpose was to set out possible changes by 2020 when, with the completion of the airport, still scheduled to open in 2016, Jamestown's historic role as the access point for the island will have come to an end. The author, off the island at the time of the meeting, seems to envisage Jamestown as a kind of up market Las Americas, and the wharf area perhaps as a cut-down version of Cape Town's Victoria and Alfred waterfront!

Among the most troubling proposals was that the Castle, the historic seat of the Government of St Helena, should become a hotel.

Jamestown Castle

At the end of what turned out to be a rather bad tempered meeting a vote was taken. Not a single hand was raised in support of the document. I was told by someone in the know that I would be shocked at the cost of the project - certainly I gather far more than £100,000. I was also confidently informed by a number of residents that nothing would happen anyway, certainly not before the completion of the airport: gossip and rumours are the only things that move fast on St Helena.

I certainly hope that the Government of St Helena and the Department for International Development will tread very carefully when making plans for this unique and largely unspoiled Georgian town. The recent destruction of historic buildings and steps on the wharf do not inspire confidence, particularly since the new facilities created there will be surplus to requirements when all freight handling moves to Ruperts Bay. p.s. all the photos enlarge if clicked.


John Grimshaw said...

Jamestown Vision 20/20. Having been fortunate enough to travel twice to St Helena, I know why my wife and I loved and enjoyed visiting the island but I'm not sure the 500 to 900 visitors a week “needed to make St Helena financially self-sustaining” would share our enthusiasm when Jamestown starts to look like everywhere else that's been "heritaged to death" by consultants. Fly in, stay at a gated hotel complex at Broadbottom with a majority of the spend being taken offshore, pop into Jamestown, wander round the shops, quick peer into the museum and back for drinks round the pool and I’m not sure how the Saints will take to being seen as extras in some Georgian theme park. Once it's like everywhere else why bother with St. Helena? What's the weather like for six months of the year? From South Africa go to the Seychelles or Mauritius, from Europe the Caribbean (particularly if there are only flights from RSA to the island). Part of the excitement of visiting was the getting there and the feeling that its remoteness gave it a special atmosphere. When you can get there in a day that sense of adventure will be gone and it just becomes another, albeit interesting, place to fly to competing with most of the rest of the world and it then becomes an exercise in value analysis. How much holiday or interest can I get elsewhere for what it will cost to fly to and stay on St. Helena? Cash rich/time poor travellers can get a greater variety of "experience" in many other places and time rich/cash poor travellers will get more for their money elsewhere. St. Helena is a very special destination and those who want to visit it will come without Jamestown being turned into a glorified shopping precinct. Even before the airport is finished, spend some money on a safe anchorage/breakwater to ensure every passing cruise ship can stop, and shop and tour without the need for big spend on infrastructure.

What do the Saints want? They may come to realise the truth of the adage "Be careful what you wish for". They wanted an airport, they're getting it and now they'll have to pay for it one way or another so HMG can balance the books. How do they want the island to develop? Historically they've always been able to adapt to change in their own way and maybe fewer consultants and more consultation would be the way forward. I'm not sure who saw the Vision document before it was released but how do 30,000 visitors per annum equate to 500-900 visitors per week? Nor do I understand how the visitor numbers have inflated so much since the Tourism Strategy document of July 2011 which gave total visitor estimate for 2020 between 7,050 and 8,300 with only 5,750 to 6,800 of these arriving by air and only reaching 30,000 by 2030.

Yes, the airport will enable more people to visit but if these proposals for Jamestown are carried out, for us, it will on longer be “the most extraordinary place on earth”.

http://www.sainthelena.gov.sh/data/files/jamestown_vision_2020.pdf Note 20.75MB


John Tyrrell said...

Thanks for the comment. I think you are absolutely right that the Saints voted for air access for obvious reasons without being made aware of the price they are going to be asked to pay. Nevertheless the air project will not now stop, although some Saints firmly believe that not a plane will ever land there. What they have to do now is to try to manage change so that they do not destory the unique character of the island.

Your comment about too many consultants and not enough consultation encapsulates the views of many Saints I spoke to on my recent visit.

Thanks again for the comment.


Matias said...

OMG I thought Santa Helena was going to be the most isolatet place on earth forever. Perhaps I have to Change the name of my blogpost from Ohh the places youll probably never go to A place you can go :) Anyways It is probably good for the bood stream there is a bit more rotation on people over there...