High-class castaways

Antigua is playing the upmarket card as a new initiative aims to attract wealthy UK second home buyers
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The Independent Online

It seems to happen every month - another new luxury development in another new location. This time it is Antigua, in the Caribbean, that is getting the second home resort treatment. But the story behind Nonsuch Bay, a development of 70 apartments, 16 waterfront townhouses and 22 house plots perched by the beach in the south west of the island, is a little different.

It seems to happen every month - another new luxury development in another new location. This time it is Antigua, in the Caribbean, that is getting the second home resort treatment. But the story behind Nonsuch Bay, a development of 70 apartments, 16 waterfront townhouses and 22 house plots perched by the beach in the south west of the island, is a little different.

Antigua is a tiny island just 14 miles by 11 miles with 67,000 residents relying almost wholly on tourism for their living. The only problem is, the island lost almost 20 per cent of its tourists since the events of September 11 2001 deterred US visitors.

Even its quasi tax-haven status, established more than 20 years ago, failed to attract many businesses or super-rich individuals wishing to be permanent residents. This is because other Caribbean islands bestowing similar fiscal benefits have been regarded as having more sophisticated infrastructures and being closer to the US.

As a result, Antigua's new government, elected in March, is trying a different approach. It wants to take the island's resorts up market and encourage wealthy first world buyers from Europe and the UK to buy second homes.

There are no half measures. "Tourism is the engine of growth. We have to harness all the other sectors and sub-sectors to tourism," says Harold Lovell, the government minister who has described the Nonsuch Bay development as an example of how he wants luxury housing resorts to be built to appeal to the well-heeled.

In 18 months' time the first occupants of the resort will walk into the homes now under construction on the 40-acre site. Apartments will cost from £95,000 to just over £250,000, the townhouses will start from £277,000 and the 1,500sq m plots will cost from £125,500 - but add a quarter of a million for the building to be constructed.

By UK standards the prices sound reasonable, but there are hidden costs. Britons have to buy a foreign landholder's licence based on a survey value of the land on which their properties sit, pay a government purchase tax of around 2.5 per cent of the home's sale price, and spend another 2 per cent on legal fees. Then there is the travel. Eight hour flights from London cost upwards of £350 for a charter, or up to £800 for economy class flights, so we are not talking weekend holiday home trippers here.

"The government doesn't want cheap tourism. It wants long-term resident holiday makers who buy a home and spend several months here each year, inflating the local economy," says John Palmier of La Perla, the Dutch luxury house builder which is developing Nonsuch and focusing on theUK and the US to find buyers.

To attract the right kind of buyer Nonsuch Bay will have on-site amenities like a deli, bakery, private docks and moorings, four communal swimming pools and a health club. Some of the homes will boast private plunge pools and there will be a rental scheme, managed by La Perla, if you want to hire out your property during the busy 32-week tourist season. There are already some other resorts on Antigua, notably Jolly Harbour, which is also in the south west of the island and where two-bedroom homes cost only about £100,000. But Nonsuch representatives point out that Jolly Harbour and its like appeared before the decision to take Antigua up-market.

"Jolly Harbour is established but hardly what you'd call exclusive. It's a wasted opportunity sprawling over a mile, almost completely open, the perfect place for a holiday home to be burgled. Nonsuch Bay will be gated, and we are seeking more up-scale buyers," explains James Barnes of Newfound Property International, which is selling Nonsuch in the UK.

When asked why the better-off Brit shouldn't go the whole hog and buy in Barbados - the longest-established and most revered of the Caribbean paradise islands - Barnes is no less bullish.

"It's the most expensive place in the Caribbean. I've been visiting the region for years and Antigua has always been a better location, but it's been held back by the politics. Now that's changed," he enthuses. But Antigua has a way to go yet. The government is putting about £15m into new roads to service Nonsuch Bay and other new resorts. Le Perla's John Palmier admits that "there are a few good supermarkets, but not many, and a few good shops, but not many, either", although he predicts this will expand as second home buyers move in.

Which is why Antigua might just prove that rare combination of an island with a flurry of new resorts and yet a good long-term investment. Nonsuch Bay's prices are only about 50 per cent of those of comparable resorts in Barbados, and Antigua does have the feeling of an island on the move.

There are 12 flights a week from London already through Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and British Midland, and soon more are starting from Manchester. London hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray, who created the stylish One Aldwych, has just opened Carlisle Bay hotel in the south of the island where even off-season a suite costs a cool $4,900 for seven nights. Plus there is Eric Clapton's gaff - well, the Crossroads drug rehab centre founded by the guitarist on what he calls this "safe, serene" island with "spiritual serenity".

Whether Antigua remains serene when the resorts are constructed remains to be seen but Nonsuch does offer a chance for sun-seekers to get in while it's still relatively uncrowded and before prices surge.

But beware - the signs are that it will get much busier in the near future.

Nonsuch Bay is on sale through Newfound Property International, 020 8871 4533.

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