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Sprucing up Belleplaine

SHAWN CUMBERBATCH, [email protected]

Sprucing up Belleplaine

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BELLPLAINE, THE LARGEST community within the area designated as Barbados’ National Park, is to be the focus of major renewal.

That’s based on a Belleplaine Community Plan proposed as part of the revamped Physical Development Plan and in which the St Andrew village has been designated a regional centre for the first time.

The news for its 2 000-strong population, including smaller villages at Lakes and Walkers, was that the authorities envisioned Belleplaine as “a nature-focused tourism centre at the heart of the National Park, achieving new economic diversity by increasing its amenity and attractiveness as a base from which to explore the surrounding culture- and nature-based attractions”.

“Belleplaine will embrace its role as a regional centre and the centre of the National Park to become a unique tourism destination and model of the green economy. It will strengthen its tourism offering while building up its suite of community services and amenities to serve the local population,” stated the community plan published by the Town and Country Development Planning Office.

Some of the specific goals and objectives documented were:

• Reinforce Belleplaine as the centre of the Barbados National Park – construct a Visitor and Interpretative Centre for the National Park, expand the network of hiking trails and improve signage of trails.

• Revitalise the former civic hub at the heart of Belleplaine – adaptively reuse the abandoned institutional buildings as locations for tourism accommodations and facilities, and community services and amenities.

• Celebrate Belleplaine’s location along the National Park Scenic Route – use enhanced landscaping to mark the entry points to Belleplaine along the Ermy Bourne Highway. Provide wayfinding signage along the National Park Scenic Route denoting Belleplaine as the centre of the National Park.

• Conserve the natural heritage of the area and encourage respectful visitor interaction – use the proposed new Visitor Centre to educate visitors about National Park ecosystems and threatened species. Work with Walkers Reserve to showcase innovative ecological restoration practices.

• Establish strict development policies and trail management guidelines.

• Improve mobility and connectivity between Belleplaine and the rest of the island – establish a formalised bus transfer point with integrated amenities.

• Develop a local food hub in the Belleplaine community core – establish a local farmers market. Support local food vendors and restaurant proprietors in reusing vacant institutional properties. Support organic farming operations in the National Park.

The document said the improvements were proposed in the context of the fact that “today, Belleplaine faces a number of challenges resulting from the withdrawal of institutional uses in the community and limited economic opportunities”.

These challenges included: little economic activity or opportunity within the boundaries of Belleplaine, limiting local employment for Belleplaine residents; the withdrawal of Government institutions, which has damaged community cohesion and resilience and reduced Belleplaine’s role as the regional centre for the National Park; a lack of consistent connectivity to the surrounding natural environment; and the tourism potential of Belleplaine not being realised, despite a significant opportunity to become the centre of cultural and natural tourism within the park.