After voicing strong objection to the $200 million Skeete’s Bay Tourism Development Project, residents in the surrounding communities of Bayfield, Skeete’s Bay and Culpepper appear to be singing a different tune.
Back in 2012, popular calypsonians Stedson RPB Wiltshire and Mac Fingall had led the public campaign by residents against the St Philip development, charging that it would have a negative impact on their community.
Amid fears that the villa project would also block access by residents to the public beach, the then Minister of Housing and Lands Michael Lashley, who is also the parliamentary representative for the area which is known for its fishing, had given his personal assurance that Skeete’s Bay would remain the property of the Crown.
However, five years after the initial controversy broke out, developer Paul Doyle revealed to Barbados TODAY this week that formal approval had now been given by the Town & Country Planning Department for him to construct 67 luxury condos in the area.
And when a Barbados TODAY team visited the Skeete’s Bay and the surrounding fishing villages this morning, surprisingly there was hardly any opposition to speak of to the multi-million dollar tourism development.
In fact, residents, who were earlier up in arms over the move, expressed hope that the project would breathe new life back into the bay area, which they say is no longer abuzz with commerce from fishing vessels or the frolic of sea bathers, as was the case in 2012.
There were also obvious signs that the fish market and jetty had fallen into disrepair. Residents also said that with the invasion of the dreaded Sargassum seaweed in recent years the fishing industry in Skeete’s Bay has been all but destroyed, with only two of the 16 resident fishing vessels left. The others have reportedly fled to Oistins in search of better fortunes amid sporadic reports of gun violence and illegal drug hauls along the popular coastal stretch.
“I don’t have a problem with Mr Doyle building the project because if we had the market they would have to make it in better condition. Right now the whole market rotten down but if the development get there I believe they would repair the market or somebody could run it and keep it going,” said longstanding boat builder and fisherman Orville Knight.
He also reported that “right now we have no boats, right now the seaweed kill the flying fish completely and when we go out we getting 25 or so flying fish,” he said, adding that since the start of the year, catches have been very small.
“None of the boats have been able to bring in 50 flying fish yet,” he stressed.
In support of the proposed tourism development which is due to begin later this year, the 63-year Bayfield resident told Barbados TODAY that he did not foresee any problems of beach access arising from the luxury development.
On the contrary, he expects that it will trigger even greater recreational use of the beachfront area.
“The road right there where the property is developed has always been private but the beach is there to use,” Knight said. However I feel if you leff it so it going to go down worse, so if Doyle going to do something around the place I welcome it because I want to see something done,” he added.
Andrea Carter, who admitted that she was initially opposed to the development, has since made a 180-degree shift in terms of her position on the project which will see to the construction of single-storey contemporary villas overlooking the sea.
“I didn’t really like the idea first because I thought it would change how the place look and how people use the beach. Right now nothing happening right now down there [Skeete’s Bay], so if the development could bring life back to the beach then I guess it would be fine,” the Bayfield resident said.
One farmer, who operates a dairy farm adjacent to the proposed development, also supported the move to transform the area.
But that is provided that there is no fallout in terms of his livestock business.
“I would like to know more about the project first about what exactly it is about, but as far as I am concerned as long as it doesn’t bother my business I can’t tell anybody what to do with their land,” the Skeete’s Bay dairy farmer, who did not want to be identified by name, told Barbados TODAY.
However, not everyone has had a change of heart about the project which comes at a very difficult time for the Barbados economy, which is faced with a $537 million deficit and desperately in need of a significant capital works injection.
Though admittedly not fully apprised of all the facts surrounding the recent approval, RPB said he remained concerned that the development threats the aesthetic beauty of the area.
“I still believe that there are areas of Barbados that should be left in their natural state and we can’t just put concrete in every area,” the ten-time Pic-O-De-Crop monarch said.
Other residents, some who had objected to the earlier proposal to transform the local fish market into a seafood restaurant, felt there was need for greater consultation before any construction work commences at the site.
“So much time has passed I believe that the developers should have done what they did the last time and hold town meetings at the
St Catherine club and see how people really feel now,” said one woman, who the team met up with in Skeete’s Bay.
Earlier this week, Doyle had sought to assure that the controversy over the project had ended and that while there were “one of two” people who had spoken out initially against the development, the Canadian developer said the misunderstandings had been cleared up and most residents were now satisfied.
Doyle had also sought to assure Barbadians that there was no chance of Skeete’s Bay being privatized.
“Something I learned 30 years ago coming, is that beaches . . . . and I fully, fully support it . . . . need to be kept for the public to enjoy forever and nobody has to convince me of that,” the Crane Resort boss said.
The Skeete’s Bay project, which is essentially an extension of the 252-room Crane resort, is one of two major tourism developments now earmarked for St Philip.
The other being the $200 million Wyndham hotel which is currently under construction at the site of the former Sam Lord’s Castle.