Guernsey Press

‘Understandable’ that future of Sark report is mistrusted

THE Sark company which paid for the Prince’s Foundation to rethink the island’s future has said it understands the ambivalence and mistrust that some locals feel about the project.

Seigneur Christopher Beaumont, left, and entrepreneur Swen Lorenz, who paid for the Prince’s Foundation report into the future of Sark through their joint business. (Picture by Andy Brown, 32235855)

The foundation published its first report on Sark yesterday, after asking residents what they like and dislike about their island and their aspirations for the future.

German entrepreneur Swen Lorenz and Sark Seigneur Christopher Beaumont, directors of the Sark Property Company paid £50,000 through their company to fund the report, and said they were delighted to see it published and its findings.

‘It’s really the first time that anyone’s actually asked the population what they want,’ said Mr Beaumont.

‘I don’t think anyone has ever bothered to try a bottom-up approach to what the community of Sark thinks about its own future.

'We’re sure it will foster further productive and positive debate and that’s the whole idea.’

The Guernsey Press was in Sark for the publication of the report – and found few residents prepared to talk openly about the work of the foundation or company, but many who privately expressed ambivalence and mistrust.

‘Why would a millionaire want to invest in Sark?’ asked one local.

‘It’s either to avoid tax or make money out of property.

'And if someone’s making money out of property, is it going to make it cheaper for locals to live here?

'We have been here before, it’s all pie in the sky.’

Mr Beaumont said that this lack of trust was understandable.

‘The real reason for ambivalence is that people have asked for plans in the past, whether commissioned by Chief Pleas or somebody else. Every time that’s happened, it’s been buried,’ he said.

‘The Barclays came in, produced a manifesto that was top down – “this is what you need, if you vote for us this is what you’ll get” – and that didn’t happen.

'I think there will be a general malaise that we’ve been here before and that is a hurdle we need to get over.’

Mr Lorenz said nobody would ever come from outside the island and provide investment in infrastructure as a gift.

‘This mistrust is one of the reasons why we are pursuing an approach of complete transparency,’ he said.

‘So if you want to change anything here, have better infrastructure, better housing, it needs to be done with private investment, which requires a return.’

Mr Beaumont added: ‘The local population is going have to get over the issue of seeing people with more wealth arriving.

‘And there is a danger that they’ll just see that aspect of it and not the other side of the equation – that wealth coming into the island provides something else, such as better roads or better sewage disposal.’

Mr Lorenz said he and Mr Beaumont did not want newcomers to go to Sark only for short-stay tax purposes and had been lobbying for years to change legislation to make sure that did not happen.

‘We don’t set residency or tax status. The Sark government does that and it is in their gift to change it,’ he said.

The foundation’s initial findings were informed by a two-day visit to the island in April.

Its report includes strong criticism of Sark’s government, which it said was ‘ineffective in delivering the needs of the island and community’, and also highlighted ‘lack of transparency, trust and poor communication’.