December 12, 2008 / 1:26 PM / 10 years ago

Former feudal isle regrets shutdown by twin tycoons

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Authorities on the Channel island of Sark said on Friday they regretted the decision of two business tycoons to shut their operations on the tiny island after its first full parliamentary election in nearly 450 years.

They said the introduction of democracy on car-free Sark must proceed at a pace slower than desired by the billionaire Barclay brothers, who live on the nearby islet of Brecqhou.

Twins David and Frederick Barclay, owners of London’s Ritz Hotel and the Daily Telegraph newspaper, put up the shutters on their Sark investments after the majority of candidates they had backed for the new 28-member chamber failed to win election.

“We are very sorry to see the investment interrupted,” said Roger Olsen, the outgoing chairman of Sark’s General Purposes and Advisory Committee.

He said the freeze on investments would hit around 40 people directly employed by Barclay interests as well as builders and contractors working on the tycoons’ properties.

“We offer our sympathies to all the families who are faced with this sudden disruption, especially at the beginning of the Christmas season. It’s a very unexpected and bitter pill to swallow,” said Olsen.

The Barclays own around a fifth of the land on Sark and half its hotels, according to newspaper reports, and live in a gothic mansion on Brecqhou. They bought Brecqhou in 1993.

The twins had campaigned for the rapid political transformation of Sark, which lies about 6 miles east of Guernsey off the coast of Normandy and had preserved Europe’s last feudal system until Wednesday’s historic vote.

But an 87 percent turnout of the island’s 474 voters largely backed candidates standing on what was seen as an anti-Barclay and pro-establishment ticket.

“They wanted democracy at their own pace rather than at the pace of the island,” newly elected representative Paul Armorgie told BBC radio.

“I think they completely misjudged the pace of reform within the island,” he said.

Gordon Dawes, the Barclays’ legal representative, said the election had been a vote for or against the brothers’ investment on the island.

“The people have expressed their view and the Barclays have responded to that,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“Kevin Delaney, their estate manager, took the decision to close down the businesses and lay off the workforce as of 5 p.m. (on Thursday) and Sir David and Sir Frederick agree with that.”

“Who in their right mind would continue to invest in a community which has rejected you in this way?”

Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato

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