Ascension : Why I am standing for council (Johnny Hobson)
Submitted by The Islander (Nathan Prince) 30.10.2002 (Article Archived on 13.11.2002)
I have thought long and hard before deciding to accept nomination to stand for the new Ascension Island Council.
I have lived on the island since 1986 and feel I have a grasp of many of the issues that the future will bring to the island. Most of all, I care a lot about what happens here on the island and to it`s community.
I have my own ideas on many matters, however, I am conscious that there are other opinions on the island on such matters and would make a point of seeking as many of these as possible, aiming as best as possible to represent them. I don`t have all the answers - don`t even know all the questions, but am willing to listen and learn from as many opinions as possible.
I think it equally important that a Councillor should be easily approachable for people who may want their help with problems etc.
Over the years here at work, in the community, on committees and most recently as a Lay Advocate speaking for people in court, I feel I have helped in this role. I`d like to think I`m a fairly easy person to talk to and seek any help and advice from that I may be able to give.
I have expanded below on a few of the things that I feel will be important to the immediate future of the island.
It`s often said that the future of any community lies with it`s youth and Ascension is no different in this aspect. I feel strongly that the education opportunities for our school children should receive the maximum investment possible. We need to address the issue of further education opportunities for the school children from 16 onwards.
There will be over 20 young people leaving our school in the next 2 years alone, many of whom have the ability to gain further skills and qualification which may well be a benefit not just to themselves, but also to the Island community should they decide to settle here.
Such a programme should be properly funded and not rely, as it does currently, on charity or "one off" payments.
After some heated debate and much lobbying, the option for the new Island Council to have responsibility for financial matters was "won over". This is a very important opportunity and one which musn`t be wasted. There are undoubtedly people who think that it is unwise for the council to have such power. We certainly don`t want to see anyone able to say "I told you so". This is why, I feel it vital, that enough councillors should have experience in financial matters to make this very important responsibility of the new local government a success. I have had considerable experience and insight in the operating of some of the Island budgets and currently working for AIG, have a knowledge of the overall budget as well as that of the Dental Department. It is important to know how to debate finance issues with officials.
The government intends to allow "residency" or permanent right of abode on the island. This is all very well, however, without the opportunity to buy your own house, it really doesn`t mean much. I would like to see as many folk, only if they wish, to have the opportunity of buying their own house on the island. This could be achieved various ways,
a) By the companies selling off the existing housing stock to current residents, should they wish to buy. The purchase price being suitably attractive as an incentive to allow as many folk as possible the opportunity to buy.
b) The sell-off and subsequent conversion of buildings such as Bates and Evans, the existing Administrator`s office after the move to the Islander Hostel, Ocean View Club, Mountain Cottages.
c) The immediate building of new housing for sale and rent on plots already designated. I have already been looking at a South African company who provide good quality prefabricated houses at very attractive prices. Their website is www.coldcor.co.za for anyone interested in finding out more.
Funding for these units could be found from the sell off of existing housing and redundant buildings.
The Farm, Red Lion and Mountain amenities.
Anyone who has visited the old farm area recently will have seen the sorry state it is in. Although a farm producing vegetables and meat etc would be great to see again, realistically I doubt whether this is possible without considerable investment. AIS lost £45,000 in it`s last year operating the farm and both tenancy experiments failed to work with the high operating costs one of the major problems.
Rather I would like to see, at least in the short term, The Red Lion in use as a Hostel for the School, youth groups, community etc. It is ideally situated and a good size to suit this purpose whereby groups of school children etc could spend "field trips" away, much as they do elsewhere in the world. This would prevent the present building falling further into disuse but yet still allow it to be available for further development at a latter date should this be desirable.
The home farm area would then be converted into an amenity public park. It would be levelled and lawned with picnic tables, swings etc put in place.
The existing Red Lion Cottage could be given over to a husband and wife team employed to look after the park (mow lawn etc), run the hostel, keep the Tunnel clean and clear at each end and possibly keep The Dew Pond and Elliot`s paths clear.
The top terraces would still be available for limited market gardening.
The other cottages could be either sold off or leased.
Conservation, Sports Fishing and External Commercial Fishing Licences.
At long last Ascension has a Conservation department that is looking out for the best interests of the Island. There is much to be done in working out strategies for conserving the many varied landscapes, flora, fauna, marine life etc that we should be treasuring. These issues will all need to be addressed as hopefully other employment opportunities become available whether they be military, telecommunications, tourism and leisure or whatever. I feel it is really important that Ascension continues to have it`s own independent conservation officer(s) who are looking out for it`s best interests. It has become clear that Ascension is potentially one of the last best sports fishing grounds in the world. This will need to be guarded jealously and protected from over fishing. Likewise, the issue of external commercial and sports fishing licence revenues will need to be addressed in the light of Ascension funding itself.
Small Businesses, a Bakery!, and Fresh Fruit & Vegetables.
These are issues that I suspect many people would like to see movement on sooner rather than later. I feel that the Government should have a responsibility to help with the start up costs of setting up small businesses, such as a bakery. In some cases it would be unrealistic to expect individuals to fund all these costs themselves and expect to recover their investment in a reasonable time. Rather encouragement should be given, such as with a bakery, to go into partnership whereby the premises and major equipment is funded by Government.
Only this way, I suspect we`ll all get "our daily bread" and at the same time encourage more local enterprise.
Although the provision of fresh fruit and vegetables should be the responsibility of the shop management, I think that the local government should at least help with exploring avenues whereby this can be brought to the Island more regularly for all it`s residents.
The Two Islands.
I don`t admit obviously to knowing as much about St. Helena as others, although I have spent 2 holidays there, the last for 6 weeks during 1998, however, I do agree that on common issues the two islands should work together. I do feel, however, that a strong healthy Ascension Island will in turn be good for St. Helena and this will be best achieved with the two islands working as equal partners on common issues.
I feel this has the potential to create significant employment on the island. If and hopefully when, the airhead opens up to commercial air traffic in the not too distant future, it will be important that the island has some strategy in mind as to how tourism may develop.
I don`t think anyone wants to see our island turned into another "Ibiza" type resort, however, with proper planning and regulation, we have the potential to develop many aspects of the island such as Retail and Catering and Leisure facilities.
I feel we have a golden opportunity through making the island ready for tourism, to "clean-up" whole areas of the island that have been left littered with the debris of past projects - fuel tanks, aerial masts etc.
This new first new Council is going to be really important in helping set out much of how things may be in here in the future. Should I be successful in being elected to it, I would strive to bring the enthusiasm and effort that I think I`ve shown in other aspects of my life here on the island. I admit that I wouldn`t always be able to get things done, but it wouldn`t be for the lack of trying. Please, if you think you`d be happy for me to be a councillor, make your opinion count and vote on the day.