A recent headline in the Nation Newspaper of February 15th that screamed, “Don’t deprive Bajans of public spaces” caught my attention. In the article, Member of Parliament, Marsha Caddle expressed her concern over the loss of recreational facilities, in this case, sports grounds, to commercial development and the potential negative impact on the communities in which they are located.
Recent announcements by our tourism planners in respect of plans for the relocation of administrative buildings in Oistins and Holetown to give way to new hotel developments have caused me some similar disquiet.
The government administrative buildings at Oistins and Holetown include police stations, a library, a community centre, post offices and magistrates’ courts, among other services. Whereas it is true that these services can be provided elsewhere and that the buildings occupy prime beach front land that could attract substantial tourism investment, the magnitude of the projects that would be required to offset the cost of relocating the existing public facilities and the potential loss of practical convenience to the respective communities would be considerable.
There is little point in discussing the importance of retaining windows to the sea anymore since these have already been lost for the most part, but we can certainly have an engaging discussion on the value and desirability of creating and maintaining recreational spaces for Barbadians at beaches that border on government-owned lands.
Bajans today have become very mobile, as can be seen from the increasing traffic jams that we have to endure daily. When Bajans go to the beach for recreational purposes, an increasing number of them arrive by car and parking must therefore be provided for those vehicles.
Recreational beach spaces cannot be reserved exclusively for tourists, who generally require extended spaces to plant their lounge chairs and beach umbrellas, at the expense of beach cricket, football, volleyball and other healthy beach activities that locals once enjoyed.
For all intents and purposes, the west coast has already been lost, with the exception of Batts Rock, Brandons and Folkestone, which are the only west coast beaches where parking and toilet facilities are provided.
As the Bay Street beach front development projects proceed, there will be diminishing returns in terms of recreational options for Bajans. The enjoyment of our beaches cannot become the exclusive preserve of wealthy investors who can finance high-rise hotels and lay claim to large swathes of beach to support the appetites of their guests.
Recreational beach spaces for locals must be carefully planned in order to avoid public antagonism and ensure future social stability demonstrated by a well-adjusted populace that is happy and eager to share the good fortune of our birthright with visitors. Rather than construct another high-rise hotel at Oistins to satisfy the beach craving of tourists, why can’t we have a project that extends beyond the Bay Gardens area to include improved beach spaces for locals with adequate parking provided across the street?
The success of the Bay Gardens project and the Crop Over festival attest to the fact that tourists are happy to enjoy facilities and events that have been created for Bajans, but we must be able to share our spaces with tourists and not find ourselves in the undesirable position of having to beg tourists for a “scotch” on spaces that have been created for them.
The architects of Golden Square would do wonders at Oistins if given the challenge. That there is a plan for the Golden Square model to be replicated at Archer’s Bay in St. Lucy is an excellent initiative.
The landscape at Holetown is already destined to be changed forever with the construction of the seven-story Royalton Hotel that will replace Discovery Bay Inn. We don’t need another high-rise hotel where the government administrative facilities are located as our tourism planners now seem to be considering. Let us create some substantial recreational beach projects that will cater specifically to the needs of the local population so that we can be assured of being able to enjoy our beach spaces for decades to come.