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Legal challenge to stop Luxury Development in protected Barbuda wetlands

The Barbuda Council – Barbuda’s local government – also intend to file a lawsuit against the developers of Cedar Tree Point.

George Jeffery, a Barbudan resident, alongside the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) have filed a legal challenge against the Development and Control Authority’s decision to approve a development at Cedar Tree Point.

The development intended for an English millionaire with now-discredited royal connections will encroach upon the frigate bird sanctuary, which has served as a tourist site and a source of income for local tour guides.

Jeffrey says that while his entire livelihood is at risk, what worries him most is the “significant risks to the delicate ecosystem, a critical habitat for our beautiful Frigate birds”.

Gulliver Johnson, an executive member of the Barbuda Land Rights & Resources Committee, a locally formed action group, remarked, “When I heard this, I thought this was very strange and we reached out to check with the British Royal family via the media in the UK – The Guardian, The Independent Newspaper – and some very high end investigative journalist to see what they knew about this project and the very disturbing thing is that they came back and they’re saying absolutely nothing. They know nothing about this project. So, somebody is trying to hoodwink us as a people, maybe trying to hoodwink the government of Antigua and Barbuda.”

The developers Abercorn Trust is also named in the lawsuit. The suit is asking the court to review the DCA;s decision that alleges the government entity granted Abercorn Trust a permit for the development “without going through the proper planning procedures”.

It further alleges that the development authority has failed to provide its decision granting Abercorn permission to the Department of Environment (DoE) for publication in the Environment Registry as required by law. It stresses that the DCA ignored the DoE’s advice to revoke the permit granted on May 26, 2022.

“This case is of huge public importance for us as Barbudans, we urge all concerned in Barbuda, our sister island Antigua, across the wider Caribbean and the globe to join us in this fight to protect our precious pristine island and our unique cultural and natural heritage.” said Johnson.

This news comes amid increasing global concern about the environmental and human rights crisis unfolding on Barbuda while a judgment is pending from the Privy Council in relation to unlawful construction of a second large runway for private jets.

GLAN and Jeffrey are represented by Leslie Thomas KC JC Legal Solutions, Antigua with support from David Neale of Garden Court Chambers and Adam Reilly of 3 Hare Court Chambers. Last week, major news outlets such as ABC News, AP News, and The San Diego Union-Tribune published their story. The Council, GLAN, and Jeffrey intend to draw widespread attention to what GLAN and some Barbudans have labeled a disaster capitalism regime perpetuated by the Antigua and Barbuda government.

About the Development

The proposed development is marketed as a low-density private residential construction project, comprising two residences (the Abercorn Residence and the DeJoria Residence), an associated back-of-house area, driveways, and outbuildings. 

The site encompasses approximately 113.9 acres, in addition to a 16.7-acre “security buffer” and a 97.7-acre buffer zone. Based on current plans, approximately 10.39 acres of land will be directly and permanently impacted by the proposed residences and associated infrastructure development, amounting to 9.1% of the total project area. 

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An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prepared in June 2020 indicates that the property extends from the ocean to the lagoon, with no plans to develop or alter the coastal lagoon where the island’s frigate birds nest. However, this assurance offers little comfort to Barbuda Council members, who claim they only became aware of the plans when the report was posted on the DoE’s website and Facebook page.

According to the report, “The proposed project site is currently undeveloped and unoccupied and is not known to have been substantially developed at any point.” The report further acknowledges that Cedar Tree Point is part of the Codrington Lagoon National Park and a RAMSAR site.

The EIA itself acknowledges that development in this area is discouraged but appears to argue for the Abercorn construction based on evidence that two hotels had been permitted there in the past. “Development is not encouraged in the area, although two hotels were previously built in this area of the Park and RAMSAR site. The Barbuda Belle Luxury Hotel is 0.95 km from the site and currently operational, and the Lighthouse Resort 5km to the south on the sand spit that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and has not been restored,” the report explains.

Although Brosnan’s company states that the proposed development “fits with the low-density development vision identified by the Barbuda Council,” the council itself is preparing to sue Abercorn.

The issues with the project are the same for both the Council and the private resident.

Warner said both cases could potentially be heard in court simultaneously and have “serious effects” if the court were to rule in favor of either party.

The council had initially sought an injunction from the courts to halt the project. Warner said the council had engaged a lawyer to file an injunction against the approval but Warner said they had to resubmit it because the court asked that they refile the application.

A Ramsar site

The Ramsar Sites information Services describes the Codrington Lagoon as one of Barbuda’s “greatest economic assets”. 

It is home to a nesting colony of frigate birds and is home to a healthy ecosystem, comprising mangroves, seagrass beds, algal mats, tidal and mud flats, beaches and coral reefs, supporting a diversity of marine species such as juvenile lobster, reef fish, sea turtles (including endangered Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles), and marine mammals, as well as nesting seabirds.
The Ramsar Convention protects wetlands in Barbuda and also in Grenada’s Levera National Park where a similar case is being fought.

Find out more about our work standing with Barbudans and fighting to protect these vital habitats across the region https://www.glanlaw.org/barbuda-wetlands

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