A draft policy on the distribution of crown land seeks to address longstanding issues, including in Anegada. (File photo: FREEMAN ROGERS)

A draft policy on crown land is now posted on the government’s website, and leaders have been gathering public input before finalising it. To that end, meetings were held around the territory over the past week, and during a House of Assembly meeting last week Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley encouraged residents to weigh in.

The policy is among several recommendations included in the Virgin Islands Crown Lands Distribution Policy Review Report that Virgin Islands attorney David Abednego completed in January as part of reforms recommended last year by the Commission of Inquiry.

The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change led the initiative and submitted a draft policy to Cabinet for approval. It was posted on the government website on Sept. 26.

Policy’s goals

During the HOA meeting last week, the premier explained that the policy has various aims, including ensuring that adequate and suitable crown land is available for government’s use; facilitating critical infrastructural development; facilitating disposal of crown land to eligible Virgin Islanders; managing crown land development; and strategically acquiring lands when needed.

Dr. Wheatley also promised that the policy will increase transparency relating to decisions on land use by providing a “clear set of criteria” and a “streamlined process.”

First-time homeowners

Also imbedded into the policy are more stringent requirements for the First-Time Homeownership Programme, which seeks to provide affordable housing for Virgin Islanders who don’t own land. Additionally, it includes guidelines for people applying for crown lands for the purpose of agricultural or commercial development.

“These applications will be considered on a leasehold agreement only, except on Anegada, where the government may dispose of land on a freehold basis to eligible [people],” Dr. Wheatley explained.

Past subsidies

The home ownership programme is not new.

It previously subsidised land prices to about 50 percent of the market value, but the demand for crown land outweighed the available land for distribution, according to the draft policy.

With other issues like delayed distribution, underdeveloped homes, and an inability of homeowners to pay even with a payment plan in place, government previously revoked the programme, according to the draft policy.

The draft policy also addresses issues such as sustainability, land affordability, and suitability of lands for development.

Additionally, it includes a vision statement, calling for the VI to become the “regional leader in suitable crown land management for the social, economic, and environmental benefit of present and future generations.”