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PM, Sir James knock NDP’s change on Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope foreign investment

PM, Sir James knock NDP’s change on Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope foreign investment

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The about face by the New Democratic Party (NDP) in their policy relating to the sale of land at Mt Wynne / Peters Hope Estate to foreign interests has been severely criticized by two prime ministers.

In separate statements on Tuesday, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and former prime minister Sir James Mitchell said the use of the land at Mt Wynne / Peters Hope for tourism development {{more}}is the best use of the land and would be good for the economy.

Gonsalves, at a press conference on Tuesday, said the newly articulated position of the NDP is the first time that there has been a breach in consensus by the two major political parties that the 681 acres of land at Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope must be reserved for tourism development.

Speaking on Boom 106.9 FM earlier on Tuesday, Sir James, under whose NDP administration the land was bought in 1989 for EC$5 million, said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!”

Mitchell said his concept of a resort at Mt Wynne / Peter’s Hope is the best use of the land in that area. “We have to look at our whole country in a broad context and see how we can maximize the use of the land and get the greatest income per square inch of land.”

Last week, at a press conference, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, himself a former prime minister said he had held discussions with his party executive, parliamentary colleagues and some other party members during which they re-examined their policy position and approach and are now “totally against” the sale of Mt Wynne / Peter’s Hope to foreign interests.

Eustace said while foreign investment is good for the economy of a nation, one must also consider the impact this investment would have on the emotions, feeling and desires of the people. He said the sale of the land would deny unborn Vincentians an opportunity to take a stake in their own land and therefore be reduced to second class citizens.

This is a complete turnaround for Eustace because on December 11, 2000, while delivering the Budget Address as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, he said there is an urgent requirement to increase the number of available, good quality rooms in this country.

“We are still unable to hold major events such as conferences or international business or organizational conventions. We are also constrained in our sports tourism possibilities…. In this regard, we are presently holding discussions with a consortium of investors with a view towards establishing a hotel of over 100 rooms in the Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope area. Among other things, the Government is prepared to contribute the land as equity for the realisation of this project,” the former prime minister said in 2000.

And more recently, the NDP’s 2015 Manifesto said “a major international development group will build a 1000-unit integrated residential and hotel resort complex on St Vincent.” While the manifesto did not give the location of the development, there are few sites on mainland St Vincent, other than Mt Wynne / Peter’s Hope where this would be possible.

Gonsalves however said at Tuesday’s press conference that during the 2015 election campaign, he told the electorate that the government had earmarked Mt Wynne / Peter’s Hope for tourism development and “that is what I am going to do.”

He said the NDP had lost the election and he was not going to implement their policy. He also noted that during the campaign, the NDP did not contest the proposition that Mt Wynne / Peter’s Hope should be used for tourism development.

Reading from Agreement #964 of 1989, Gonsalves said the Mitchell administration had bought the 681 acres of land for EC$5 million, $2.055 million of which was paid in cash, with the rest paid to the vendor in bonds.

Stating that some of the land is good for tourism, while the rest is suitable for agriculture, Gonsalves said Mitchell constructed a new road to run closer to the sea to make the area more suitable for tourism development.

The present investors are Pace Developments Inc. of Toronto, Canada to whom 36 acres will be sold. Pace Developments is a construction and development building company based in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada.

An agreement has been made to sell Pace Developments two parcels of land — one of a little over 31 acres and the other of 5.7 acres for a total of EC$7 million.

On the larger piece of land, which has no beach frontage, 50 residential villas with an average of four rooms each will be built, on the ridge between Mt Wynne and Peter’s Hope.

Contiguous to that parcel is the smaller piece which abuts part of the beach at Peter’s Hope. It is there that a 200-room hotel will be built.

Gonsalves reiterated that there will be public access by road to the beaches in the area.

The Prime Minister said the developers will pay the alien land holding licence fee and 5 per cent transfer tax up front for the land, after which they would build 50 villas.

He said some concessions have been given on the first sale of a villa. Explaining, Gonsalves said when each villa is sold, the developers and the person buying the villa have to pay stamp duty and the alien land holding license.

“But to attract them, you do not charge the alien land holding licence for the first buyer because you got the alien land holding license already for the land, but you charge the stamp duty, which would be 9 per cent in this case.”

Stamp duty on the sale of property is normally 10 per cent.

He noted that the developers intend to sell the properties for an estimated US$650.000 each and the stamp duty will be paid not on the value of the land alone, but on the value of the land and the building constructed on the land.

He projected that a total stamp duty of approximately US$3 million would be realized on the sale of the 50 villas.

The Prime Minister however stated that for subsequent sales, the 10 per cent stamp duty would have to be paid as well as the alien landholding license.

Gonsalves also rejected claims that the land had been sold at less than market value, as neighbouring house plots were being sold at $12 a square foot, whereas the 36 acres sold at $7 million worked out to approximately $5 a square foot.

He explained that if the land, bought at $5 per square foot were to be cut up into lots, it would cost about $7 a square foot to put in infrastructure, bringing the total value to $12 a square foot.

Sir James, during his interview on Boom 106.9 FM reiterated his disappointment with the Party he formed in 1975. He asked what are the alternative plans of the NDP and said if the ULP government succeeds with the Mt Wynne / Peter’s Hope development, thousands of people will be employed.

“In development of a hotel these days it costs US$250,000 a room. When you talk about local investment where will the local investment come from? What is the attitude of the banks in St Vincent these days to a loan for local investment. …. It is not easy to get funding the way you did in the past and you need the direct foreign investment these days to get something done.”

Sir James said in the project the NDP had designed for Mt Wynne / Peter’s Hope, there was no question about selling off the entire area, as an area was set aside for local persons to have picnics. He suggested that the NDP demand to see that project to determine the details.

“We need injections of cash in this country and it can only come from direct foreign investment,” Sir James said.

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