Categorized | Features, General

De Ole Dawg – Part 5: Contribution

What about access and the ports?

BRADES, Montserrat, Oct 28, 2015 – In the thematic picture for this series, there are two lions. And for us, access is lion no. 2.

lion and tyresYes, that is going to involve data access and the fibre optic cable project that can open up possibilities for a data/ back office/ business/ e-commerce/ web services industry. (Note, highly reliable, fossil fuel-free geothermal energy can provide a stable energy base for such an info-communication technology [ICT] industry.)

However, the main issue on the table is ports, sea and air, especially the sea port. Also, the ferry and shipping connections. Let us recall that DFID Minister Allen Duncan – in his December 9th 2011 Montserrat Reporter interview – said:

“ . . . You can’t have a sustainable economy without good communications, transport or information . . . . so I appreciate the ferry – it’s small and inadequate but if you’re going to have a bigger ferry then you need investment in the port. We’ve got to look at how much is justified. Do you go straight to making it big enough for larger ships; is there a private sector aspect to it where someone outside government might invest? So, we’re exploring all that with [Premier Meade]. Something is going to have to be done to improve access so that’s what . . . people are working on all the time.”

Almost four years later, the underlying importance of a sound port has not changed. But we face the force of the DFID MDC business case of 2012:

“There is currently no prospect of the private sector making significant investment in major capital investments or in complementary institutional support. This is because the market for leisure and commercial transport to Montserrat is perceived by the private sector as too small and high risk. Initial and catalytic investments are therefore required by the public sector and these need to be properly designed and implemented . . .”

So, it should not be a surprise that attempts to find major private sector investment partners have consistently been frustrating. Until “initial and catalytic” investments are in place, the investment climate will always be seen as unfavourable. And for such “initial” investments to be credible, good governance reforms must be put in place, so that we are clearly “safe hands.”

Once that “catalyst” is in place, we can turn to the issue, where should we put the new, permanent port – why? (A question we seem to still be unable to sort out, after nearly twenty years.)

To do that, we first need to consider the components of a proper port:

port

(CREDIT: Trujillo and Nombela)

In recent years, the first “consensus” was the three bays development concept, e.g.:

port1

The vision as pictured was for hotel development in Rendezvous bay, a port and tourism-based development of Little Bay as the new capital, with a Marina in Carr’s bay. Subsequently the main focus was on the two bays, and (based on the 2011 Charette), the port was shifted to Carr’s bay. A plan was developed. Gunn hill and its gun battery dating to the 1600’s and 1700’s were bulldozed and used to fill Piper’s pond; which was now envisioned as the new town centre. However, Piper’s pond, though deteriorated, was the last major coastal mangrove wetland in Montserrat. Such wetlands – never mind buzzing mosquitoes etc. – are key components of a properly functioning tropical island environment “from ridge to reef.” Artificial wetlands never work quite as well as natural ones.

More recently, there seems to have been a backing away from the Carr’s bay idea.  It is hard to figure out just what is being said behind closed doors and in secret consultancy reports, but various vague hints may suggest that it would cost too much relative to one of the Little bay options, and it may be too small. (Forgive us if we don’t quite get a clear picture on the port debate, there is an obvious lack of transparency.)

And of course, there was a very public disagreement over what HMG offered to fund vs what the past Premier argued for. However, there is still some hope: HE Governor Carriere, in her acceptance speech, said that Better sea links, tapping opportunities for geothermal energy and improving technological links to the wider world all have a part to play.” Just maybe, that is not only about a new ferry. Please, Mr Santa Claus, pretty please.

DFID’s 2012 business case for MDC was obviously right: without major public investment in “catalytic” projects, the private sector investment climate will not improve, and a port is key to that.

Whatever we do, Carr’s bay is the natural focus of our road network, and passing heavy port traffic through a tourism-based development of Little bay may not be attractive. A bypass road may be needed.  Also, the potential effect of a port on water quality should not be overlooked. Doubtless, there are many other issues we the public are not privy to. But clearly, there is no obvious, simple solution; we will have to make an intelligent compromise that we can live with.

Likewise, we need to think very hard about further development of the air port.

Again, we have the St Helena £ 250 million airport project as a yardstick, we have means and opportunity. So, if not now, then when – and why?

ENDS –

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What about access and the ports?

BRADES, Montserrat, Oct 28, 2015 – In the thematic picture for this series, there are two lions. And for us, access is lion no. 2.

lion and tyresYes, that is going to involve data access and the fibre optic cable project that can open up possibilities for a data/ back office/ business/ e-commerce/ web services industry. (Note, highly reliable, fossil fuel-free geothermal energy can provide a stable energy base for such an info-communication technology [ICT] industry.)

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However, the main issue on the table is ports, sea and air, especially the sea port. Also, the ferry and shipping connections. Let us recall that DFID Minister Allen Duncan – in his December 9th 2011 Montserrat Reporter interview – said:

“ . . . You can’t have a sustainable economy without good communications, transport or information . . . . so I appreciate the ferry – it’s small and inadequate but if you’re going to have a bigger ferry then you need investment in the port. We’ve got to look at how much is justified. Do you go straight to making it big enough for larger ships; is there a private sector aspect to it where someone outside government might invest? So, we’re exploring all that with [Premier Meade]. Something is going to have to be done to improve access so that’s what . . . people are working on all the time.”

Almost four years later, the underlying importance of a sound port has not changed. But we face the force of the DFID MDC business case of 2012:

“There is currently no prospect of the private sector making significant investment in major capital investments or in complementary institutional support. This is because the market for leisure and commercial transport to Montserrat is perceived by the private sector as too small and high risk. Initial and catalytic investments are therefore required by the public sector and these need to be properly designed and implemented . . .”

So, it should not be a surprise that attempts to find major private sector investment partners have consistently been frustrating. Until “initial and catalytic” investments are in place, the investment climate will always be seen as unfavourable. And for such “initial” investments to be credible, good governance reforms must be put in place, so that we are clearly “safe hands.”

Once that “catalyst” is in place, we can turn to the issue, where should we put the new, permanent port – why? (A question we seem to still be unable to sort out, after nearly twenty years.)

To do that, we first need to consider the components of a proper port:

port

(CREDIT: Trujillo and Nombela)

In recent years, the first “consensus” was the three bays development concept, e.g.:

port1

The vision as pictured was for hotel development in Rendezvous bay, a port and tourism-based development of Little Bay as the new capital, with a Marina in Carr’s bay. Subsequently the main focus was on the two bays, and (based on the 2011 Charette), the port was shifted to Carr’s bay. A plan was developed. Gunn hill and its gun battery dating to the 1600’s and 1700’s were bulldozed and used to fill Piper’s pond; which was now envisioned as the new town centre. However, Piper’s pond, though deteriorated, was the last major coastal mangrove wetland in Montserrat. Such wetlands – never mind buzzing mosquitoes etc. – are key components of a properly functioning tropical island environment “from ridge to reef.” Artificial wetlands never work quite as well as natural ones.

More recently, there seems to have been a backing away from the Carr’s bay idea.  It is hard to figure out just what is being said behind closed doors and in secret consultancy reports, but various vague hints may suggest that it would cost too much relative to one of the Little bay options, and it may be too small. (Forgive us if we don’t quite get a clear picture on the port debate, there is an obvious lack of transparency.)

And of course, there was a very public disagreement over what HMG offered to fund vs what the past Premier argued for. However, there is still some hope: HE Governor Carriere, in her acceptance speech, said that Better sea links, tapping opportunities for geothermal energy and improving technological links to the wider world all have a part to play.” Just maybe, that is not only about a new ferry. Please, Mr Santa Claus, pretty please.

DFID’s 2012 business case for MDC was obviously right: without major public investment in “catalytic” projects, the private sector investment climate will not improve, and a port is key to that.

Whatever we do, Carr’s bay is the natural focus of our road network, and passing heavy port traffic through a tourism-based development of Little bay may not be attractive. A bypass road may be needed.  Also, the potential effect of a port on water quality should not be overlooked. Doubtless, there are many other issues we the public are not privy to. But clearly, there is no obvious, simple solution; we will have to make an intelligent compromise that we can live with.

Likewise, we need to think very hard about further development of the air port.

Again, we have the St Helena £ 250 million airport project as a yardstick, we have means and opportunity. So, if not now, then when – and why?

ENDS –