ST JOHN’S –– Contrary to popular public belief, residents are not, in every case, guaranteed the right of a public landward access to beaches in Antigua & Barbuda.
The oft-stated belief stems from Section 50 (1) of the Physical Planning Act of 2003 which states, “There shall be at least one public landward access to every beach in Antigua and Barbuda.”
Former Attorney General Justin Simon, however, explained that the right is made conditional in subsequent sections of the act.
“The law provides that if it has been a tradition for persons to use a particular pathway or roadway to the beach, then that has to continue … [but] that access should have been enjoyed by the public for at least 20 years [for that right to be established],” Simon said.
Traditional public use is defined in the law as “peaceable, open and uninterrupted enjoyment for a period of 20 years”, and if it is not established, then it is up to the government to establish public beach access through a private property.
The contentious issue of access to beaches within the Mill Reef Club was recently brought to the attention of OBSERVER media by residents, but Simon declined to comment specifically on the resort.
But when OBSERVER media visited the entrance to Mill Reef to find out where was the public access to beaches within the property, and a security guard stationed at the gate said that the property and beaches were private property and there was no public access.
The 1,500 acre members-only Mill Reef Club runs along five miles of shoreline and encloses a number of beaches including Great Deep Bay, Friers Heads Bay and Exchange Bay. Only Exchange Bay has a landward beach access of sorts, which runs along a stretch of cliffs adjoining Half Moon Bay.
The issue with Mill Reef Club has been long running, with the club and its residents criticised as far back as in Jamaica Kincaid’s 1998 novel, A Small Place.
Kincaid argued that ordinary Antiguans and Barbudans stood no chance of accessing the beautiful beaches within the club unless as staff.
“On several occasions, I went to this beach close to Mill Reef and the security guards will approach you and tell you, you are on a private property and you have to end up arguing with them that this is a beach and cannot be private property,” Bird said.
“Your public right to the beach or in respect of you using the beach is up to the high water mark; anything beyond the high water mark, you are trespassing,” Simon said.
Bird maintains that she was below the high water mark.
OBSERVER media attempted to reach the management of Mill Reef Club for comment, but repeated calls went unanswered.
There have also long been complaints of hotel security ordering persons off the beaches, and an OBSERVER media staff member was among a group ordered off a beach adjoining Jumby Bay.
Simon said once a person does not pass a high water mark “the security officer has no such right to do so (order a person off) because this land is considered to be crown land and land to which every person can utilise”.