In 1704 there was a decision given by the King of France that arose from a complaint by Mr. Graissier of Guadeloupe to the King at Versailles that the Governor-General and the Steward of Guadeloupe made a concession of the lands comprising the King’s Chain that lay between the sea and the adjoining plantation of Mr. Graissier.
The decision in that matter became the subject of a Ministerial Dispatch from the King’s Court at Versailles, dated 3rd December 1757 and became part of the Ancient French Law contained in Appendix II to Volume VI of the Laws of Saint Lucia. In a case before the High Court in 1999 Justice Denys Barrow made the following comment in his judgment:
‘’In the settlement of Saint Lucia there was always reserved a strip of land around the island to enable the establishment of towns, parishes, forts, entrenchments, batteries and other public and necessary works, as much for decoration as for defence. In the areas where towns, fortresses and batteries were established, it served for that use. In the rest of the island the owners of the land above it obtained from the Lords, Governors and Stewards of the King, permission to clear the lands, which enabled them to procure facilities for the exploitation of their plantations. It was always the understanding that those lands, whichcame to be called the King’s or Queen’s Chain, according to the gender of the reigning monarch, could be reclaimed when needed for the service of the King or the public.’’
This Queen’s Chain is a distance of 186.5 feet from the high water mark. So take a virtual journey around the entire coastline of Saint Lucia and take a distance of 186.5 feet from the high water mark and then begin to get an appreciation of who is the rightful owner of that strip of land around Saint Lucia. Then begin to ask yourself since our French based law has given us this distinct advantage over most of the other Caribbean islands, of State ownership of such huge expanse of prime land, why have successive governments virtually given up this advantage.
Your anger, disappointment and alarm would be even more heightened if you go to the Land Registry and observe the very low lease payments that the government has negotiated for the use of these high valued lands by developers.
I recently read a post on Facebook which stated that a security guard at one of our hotels in the north was stopping locals from access to the beach. The post referred to a decision of the management of that hotel to stop locals from bathing in front of the hotel. While I view these third party Facebook conversations with suspicion, if that is in fact true, then this is a fundamental breach of our Constitution by that hotelier and the government agencies must ensure that they convey to the hotelier that this will not be tolerated whatsoever.
With the technology now available, the government can map the entire shoreline of the country and determine the present usage of our Queen’s Chain and begin to take control of this important state asset. All development that is now occupying the Queen’s Chain must be regularized with Crown Leases of the Queen’s Chain of market value and where needed demolition orders be pursued. Crown Leases which were given for development and to which no development has been started or completed should be revoked.
We cannot develop our tourism on the same platform of a plantation economy; we have to seize our advantages. If a developer wants the use of our Queen’s Chain then the State must also benefit, and it cannot be gifted away under the pretext of facilitation. If you want to build your house or hotel and enjoy the beauty of our shoreline then you have to pay.
The government would do well to reserve the Queens Chain from Choc to Vigie in the north and in the south the area from Coconut Bay to New Dock Road, for recreational use. We have to balance development and recreational purposes and thus I would strongly support these areas to be so reserved.
I would also suggest that the last remaining section of the ‘Ramp” at Rodney Bay be vested into the National Trust to preserve this area as a recreational area with the inclusion of an Interpretation Centre showing the history of Saint Lucia’s involvement in World War 2.
So the next time you go to the beach to bathe, walk with a copy of the Constitution in your back pocket and if any guard decides to stop you, pull it out and tell him that your freedom to go on this beach is safeguarded by the rule of law.