St. John’s Antigua- Finance and Economy Minister Harold Lovell has suggested a national referendum be used to determine whether the country should welcome the construction of a branch of the world-famous Beaches Resort in Antigua & Barbuda.
When the project was proposed mid-last year, it received strong objections from opposition quarters and some residents. Recently, reports surfaced in Barbados media that the potential investor Gordon Butch Stewart might shift the brand to Barbados or St Lucia.
Minister Lovell said he wants residents to debate the issue and prove to Antigua Labour Party (ALP) Member of Parliament for St Phillips North Robin Yearwood that he (Yearwood) is among a minority with strong objections to the project that would generate revenue for the country.
“I want us to have a national debate about this and I want us to tell Robin Yearwood that this is our country and we are going to put our people first,” Lovell told a sizeable crowd in attendance at a United Progressive Party (UPP) rally Thursday night. “If we have to put this to a national referendum we should put it to a national referendum and let the people speak.”
The rally, the first of its kind for the party this year, featured about half the ruling party’s hierarchy in the politically charged session which lasted some for hours.
Lovell’s remarks were met with nods and scattered shouts of approval from the crowd.
“We should not allow a few people to stop progress in this country,” the UPP MP said. “The time has come for the country to really get on and move forward.”
He said those in opposition of the project are “badminded” and “political opportunists” whose noise against the project cast doubt in the mind of the potential investor who operates the Pineapple Beach Club.
Several persons including MP Yearwood and vendors who operate on the proposed construction site have complained the project would negatively impact them while residents complained it would deny them full access to Long Bay Beach.
However, minister Lovell said the aforementioned concerns were considered and the government had commenced dialogue with those likely to be affected.
In fact, Minister Lovell said he believes the project would actually have more positive effects on the country than negative.
“We have done everything. We have spoken to the owner of Long Bay Hotel and we are going to acquire a whole acre of land to make more space available on the beachfront,” Lovell said. “In addition to that, there is another two acres which was never used and there’s a fence there and we are going to open that out so there’ll be even more space for the public of Antigua & Barbuda.”
He added, “We are going to put modern parking, modern toilet facilities and we are going to make sure the vendors are properly taken care of…The project would have provided about 400 construction jobs and on completion there would have been another 600 jobs…That is what we could have had started since last year.”
MP Yearwood said he was not disappointed by the news the project might shift to another island and he had no regrets about making his opposition known.
When the news of the possible shift was disclosed, Yearwood said, “It is not my position only. It’s the people that I represent and I have to follow instructions from my people. Long Bay has been there for the people of this area, for the people of Antigua & Barbuda for years and years and to go and take away their existing comfort – it could not be good for any government to even suggest that.”
The investment was expected to start in the second half of 2011 in the form of the expansion of the Pineapple Beach Club at Long Bay operated by Stewart.
The Beaches brand is the mirror brand of Sandals Resort, and whereas Sandals targets couples, The Beaches is an all-inclusive brand for families.