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By Elesha George

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Residents of St Phillips, Newfield, Bethesda and the general Willoughby Bay area are to receive first preference for a land development initiative that is anticipated to cost approximately EC $297 million.

A land use policy for the 3,074.17 acres of land is currently being developed by technicians within various government agencies including the Development Control Authority (DCA) and the Ministry of Lands.

It has been referred to as the “start of a new city” that now currently consists of a combination of private and Crown lands.

The entire project is being spearheaded by the development arm of the government appointed Economic Recovery Committee (ERC) as a way to improve economic activity during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Head of the subcommittee, Ambassador Daven Joseph has called it a “generational project” that will build wealth among the people who have lived and have toiled the area for decades.

He said contrary to circulated information, the project will not be led by foreign investment but has been formulated to empower locals and diasporans and “to identify and pursue development opportunities”.

The project maps out five sectors of development that will include agriculture, waterfront development, commercial spaces, manufacturing, parking and residential development.

Agriculture will form a major part of the development with 223 acres already allocated for agro-processing. An additional 89.79 acres will be allocated for special projects like a heritage train railway system that will showcase the history of the island.

Business opportunities also include farming, the construction of villas and Air BnB type properties, the restoration of Betty’s Hope and the development of Potworks Dam.

Residents will have the opportunity to expand their small businesses and partner with venture companies who can provide international capital.

Entrepreneurial Development Fund (EDF) representative, Garfield Joseph said “this is a unique opportunity like we’ve never seen before, where we’re bringing Antiguans and Barbudans, asking us to pool our local resources, capital, know how, experience through collaboration to make this project successful”.

The EDF will help by introducing small business owners to persons who may have the capital they may need to expand their businesses.

Lands for residential use will be sold at US $3 per square foot and attract low interest rates of two and three percent to locals, to allow them to be able to obtain parcels for development.

William Dorset, chairman of the Ecclesiastical Commission and a member of the ERC, said the intention is to move economic activity away from the city, St John’s, and into areas with potential to contribute significantly to the country’s finances.

“I think it’s going to be a great venture. What is good about the Willoughby Bay area is that it’s not going to just be a tourism sector development, but it will also have national inclusivity where there’s going to be a farmers market, there’s going to be activities trailing around Potworks Dam. So, there’s going to be a lot of national and local involvement,” he shared.  

The Willoughby Bay development is expected to take anywhere from 10 to 15 years to complete. It is expected to accommodate approximately 4,836 residents who will contribute to an anticipated 5 to 10 per cent of Antigua and Barbuda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly.

On November 26, 2020, the ERC will host an online investment forum where it will determine the development investment potential for the proposal.

The ERC is recommending that work, including consultation with residents, should start immediately after next month’s investment forum.

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