Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister, Gaston Browne said if Barbudans wish to hinder the progress of the island, he would not prevent them from doing so.
Two Barbudans filed an application for leave for judicial review of the government’s decision to construct an airport in Barbuda.
The injunction, which was filed with the High Court of Justice of Antigua and Barbuda on Friday, sought to address what is being described as failures by the central government to meet critical requirements under the Physical Planning Act 2003, in the development of the airport, and failure to follow proper planning procedures where the government has started or permitted construction.
In response, in an interview with OBSERVER media, Browne said, this was just a part of the group’s “modus operandi” and by their actions, they would be the ones hampering their growth.
“They will stall everything and anything, so they can go ahead. They can go ahead and do whatever they wish because at the end of the day, it is their own progress that they are stymieing. If Barbudans want to take out their injunction to stop the project, so be it. If they want to stymie their own development, feel free,” Browne said.
He continued, “if they want to block all the projects, every single capital project, that the government embarks upon, if they want to block all the private investments go right ahead.”
The applicants, John Mussington and Jacklyn Frank, both residents of Barbuda, filed the case as representatives of Barbudans who are affected by and opposed to the “massive destruction” of forests, wildlife and ecosystems allegedly associated with the construction of the airport.
According to a release on behalf of the applicants, the legal action reveals multi-department failure to comply with regulations, including failure to complete required environmental impact assessments, incomplete submission of proposed plans, failure to receive Barbuda Council approval of proposed plans, and instances where the government ignored its own reports of risk to the island.
The applicants are seeking from the Court: Permission to pursue a judicial review application against the Development Control Authority (DCA) for failure as the regulatory body to ensure that the planning legislation is complied with for the good of Antigua and Barbuda and a temporary injunction to prevent any further work on the airport until the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority and DCA comply with the statutory obligations under planning laws.
The Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda, Steadroy Benjamin is also listed as a defendant.
The release also stated that, to date, at least 7,100 ft spanning west to east of once virgin forest lands in Barbuda have been cleared for the construction of the airport.
It is said that these lands were traditionally used by Barbudans for grazing animals, farming and hunting and were the habitat of the rare red footed tortoise and the feeding grounds for the Barbudan Fallow deer.
Leslie Thomas QC, international human rights barrister at Garden Court Chambers in the UK and lead attorney at Justice Chambers in Antigua, who is representing the Barbudans said, “as the environmental stewards of their island, Barbudans were meticulous in their protection of their ecologically, historically and archaeologically significant lands.”
Thomas, further stated that, “development of the airport must stop immediately until proper assessments can be made and procedures followed.”
The airport is approximately 80 percent completed, according to the Government’s Chief of Staff Lionel “Max” Hurst.
The initial funding for the airport was contributed by the Paradise Found Group and Peace Love & Happiness Barbuda. The former is a partnership between Robert De Niro and James Packer of the US $250 million Paradise Found hotel project.
The second group is principally a partnership between John B Turbidy and John Paul De Joria to construct another US. $250 million hotel project on the sister isle.
In 2016, Browne had announced that both investors had, at the request of the government of Antigua and Barbuda, given US $5 million for the construction of the new airport.
Up until publication, we had been unable to verify if all three defendants had been served.