Govt' To Move On Clifton
The large parcel of land on the western tip of New Providence known as the Clifton property has long been in limbo.
But that could soon come to an end.
As Members of Parliament prepare to begin debate on a bill to establish the Clifton Heritage Authority, the spotlight could again be placed on the controversy over the property that once ignited passionate debate that reached a fever pitch several years back.
Opposition Whip in the House Brent Symonette told the Bahama Journal Wednesday that there are questions that will no doubt arise regarding whether the Authority will be truly independent.
He said he expects "an interesting and heated debate." But he noted that the opposition should not dispute the core issue - that is turning the land into a national park.
Five years ago, some members of the Free National Movement Government supported turning the area into a multimillion-dollar gated community with then Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson insisting that, "the development will bring a stream of returning tourists year after year...it will provide any number of other jobs in the tourism industry."
Since that debate died down, the property, which was the site of significant archaeological finds, has remained untouched.
Among other things, the Authority would lead the way in raising money for the government to pay for the land, which is estimated by some to be worth about $20 million. The government intends to issue bonds in this respect.
In 1989, the then government acquired the property from Nancy Oakes, who now resides in London.
The matter has stretched three administrations, but Ms. Oakes, now ailing, never received payment for the land.
Her attorney, Paul Adderley, told the Bahama Journal Wednesday that before the present government came up with this new option to pay for the property, she had been interested in getting the property back.
"The Constitution provides for prompt payment," he noted.
Mr. Adderley also pointed out that Ms. Oakes "is not as rich as people think she is" and he intimated that the payment would be long overdue.
Establishing a national park at the Clifton property would be a fulfilment of a Progressive Liberal Party campaign promise. In fact, Mr. Symonette believes the debate in parliament will turn into a "political football."
In early 1999, the PLP, while in opposition, joined the tide of strong resistance to the Clifton Cay development proposed at the time. Prime Minister Perry Christie, while in opposition, said he believed that the development would have placed in foreign hands far too much of the extremely scares natural resources that exist in New Providence.
Mr. Christie said he believed that the government should have retained the full 600 acres of land in trust for the Bahamian people. The portion of land that would be under the Authority's control would be 208 acres.
"If the government can raise $20 million to fund the cost of a new bridge to the Sun International Resort (now Kerzner International) it can surely apply the same ingenuity to raise a lesser amount of capital to hold the Clifton Cay property in trust for present and future generations of Bahamians," Mr. Christie told the Bahama Journal in February, 1999.
American investors, James Anthony and James Chaffin, were in 1999 pushing a plan to turn Clifton into a $400 million gated community, a proposal that was so strongly opposed by some Bahamians, the investors soon packed up and left town.
Now, Clifton appears to face a future persons who had opposed the development had been pushing for.
The bill before parliament would give the Authority to be established the power to "hold, manage, maintain, preserve, promote and develop [the property] as a national park and historic cultural heritage site."
The Authority would also enter into archaeological and other joint ventures with persons and entities of international and unimpeachable repute.
It would no doubt be a bit of a victory for the Coalition to Save Clifton Cay, which has quieted since debate on the property fizzled, but, according to its leader, has continued to review developments regarding the property.
Vice President of the Senate Dr. C. B. Moss, who helped form the Coalition several years ago, said the group supports the bill, but has some "minor" concerns.
But Rev. Moss added, "We think that the spirit of the proposed legislation would provide adequate protection for what we want to see there."
Candia Dames, The Bahama Journal