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Published: March 10th 2013
Well, a whiff of cordite in the air this week.
A few weeks ago a very glossy prospectus was produced by Enterprise St Helena (a NGO, publically funded, charged with regenerating the island’s economy alongside the airport project) featuring some very comprehensive changes suggested for Jamestown. Now, the island’s capital (think Much Wenlock rather than London or New York) will no longer be the entry point to the island once the airport opens, the RMS is decommissioned and goods are taken to the wharf at neighboring Rupert’s Bay. So, as with all communities preparing themselves for a tourist-based economy, changes do need to be made. Jamestown is, apparently, the best example of a Georgian town in the southern hemisphere (yes, I’m sure that there must be another one somewhere) but, if truth be told it could do with a bit of smartening up. For example, the pavement outside of Prospect House (where the new South Atlantic Media Services – SAMS have set up business) was removed prior to my arrival last March. There is some talk of it being resurfaced in a more traditional style but nothing has happened in the intervening 12 months – there is probably a well-stated reason for the delay but if nothing happens in 1 year what chance of a result during year 2?
What happens of course is one gets used to something being unfinished and the disorder becomes part of the (almost) un-noticed landscape. I was walking around the town this morning and spotted that the Castle (seat of government) still has one of its walls shored up by timber supports. Clearly a temporary measure – but I know this support was there before Christmas. There will be a plan and the problem is certainly very technical – but nothing seems to be happening and time passes towards the opening of the airport at a rapid pace. So, my point? Well, there are aspects of this delightful capital town that are more than a little scruffy and require some remedial work.
Now, back to the prospectus (not a ‘plan’ ESH reminds us). A very detailed booklet full of architecturally designed plans and drawings with the town divided into ‘zones’ – commercial, tourist, shopping, domestic – designed to make the town more attractive and welcoming to tourists wanting to spend some money. A reminder to you that the island is coming up to some potentially traumatic times – at the moment the existence of the island is sustained by a pretty hefty subsidy from HMG in the UK. We were reminded this week that the actual economy of the island realizes £1 per person per day – nowhere near enough to keep the island going as a realistic prospect. The plan is for the UK subsidy to reduce year on year whilst the island becomes increasingly independent with an economy based on airborne tourists.
This week there was a crowded meeting held in the Consulate ballroom for a public discussion on the ideas in the prospectus and the future of Jamestown. It would be an understatement to suggest that there was a clash of cultures leading to a very uncomfortable meeting. The attempts of an architect to suggest the historical background to important features of the town indicated for modernizing was rejected after half an hour when the loud response from a member of the audience ‘If I wanted a history lesson I’d have gone back to school!’ was met by loud applause. Shortly after, the architect (who had volunteered his services for the evening and hadn’t been involved in the suggested changes) retreated wounded and the meeting was taken over by the Chief Executive of ESH. Now Julian seems to me to be a splendid fellow with a terrifically demanding job. But there is something of the ‘public school’ manner about him and this certainly was not warmly welcomed by members of the audience, who by now was rather more like a baying crowd. As the evening went on, the questions became more spiteful and the responses more defensive. For your correspondent there seemed to be a clash of cultures that I supposed had become extinct – that between colonial overlord and oppressed natives. All of course entirely overstated, a fiction and reflecting what I see to be a growing divide between the executive arm of government (managed by ex-pats) and the Saints who do not seem to be well represented by strong action from elected councillors.
I’m not certain quite how the meeting ended except there was, I recall, some polite applause when Julian concluded the session that reminded me of the Roman arena. The theme of the dispute is that Saints were not included in the drawing up of these suggestions and resented what they see as an imposition of these unwanted (and foreign) ideas. ESH see this as the beginning of some serious consultation on how the island capital can contribute to the regenerating economy; the glossiness (and expense) of the prospectus suggested to many that thinking had gone rather further than that. A reflection, of course, of the mistrust between different groups at this time of enormous change.
The ballroom was oppressively warm – and not just from the hot air generated by the meeting. Whilst we hear that the UK winter is long and cold this year, here it is very warm and rather humid. A walk down from the office into town results in a certain degree of dampness which trickles down towards the nether regions. Hence the title of this blog which is not a spoof of the Rolling Stones album but a description of our summer reality.
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