Panaji, Nov. 17: Lady Hamlyn, one of the richest women in Britain, has become embroiled in a bitter row with the government of Goa after being accused of trying to turn an ancient colonial monument into a holiday home.
Helen Hamlyn, the widow of Lord Hamlyn, the publishing tycoon, had offered to pay £3,00,000 through her charitable trust to restore the 16th-century Reis Magos fort, which is said to have the most spectacular view of Goa.
Lady Hamlyn, whose husband left her £50 million when he died of cancer last year, said she wanted to restore the fort to make a contribution to local culture. Her proposals suggested that the fort’s grounds could be used as an art centre and would be open to the public. She submitted the plans to take over the fort, which was built in 1551 by Portuguese conquerors, through the Helen Hamlyn Trust, a charitable foundation she has endowed in Goa.
The renovation plans, however, also stated that she and her family must be given access to an apartment being built in the fort for four months each year until 2015.
Mario Cabral e Sa, a Goan writer who objected to Lady Hamlyn’s renovation, accused her of attempting to construct a holiday home rather than restore a historic monument. “She should know that our history is not for sale,” he said.
Foreigners have been allowed to buy property in Goa, renowned for its sandy beaches and coconut groves, since the Indian government introduced land reforms in the early 1980s.
Many foreigners, however, are still discouraged from buying homes because if they sell a property they are not allowed to take the profits out of the country. Buying the fort outright could have cost Lady Hamlyn, 68, millions of pounds which she would not have been able to recoup.
A Goan government spokesman said: “It appears that Lady Hamlyn was not so interested in Goan heritage and there were some doubts over her experience of dealing with ancient sites. Her application to take over the fort has been rejected.”
Lord Hamlyn, who became a peer in 1998, built up a £300 million fortune through publishing, including Books for Pleasure and Music for Pleasure. He gave millions to charity and also donated more than £2.5 million to the Labour Party. On his death, the bulk of his estate — more than £200 million — passed to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, his personal charity.
Lady Hamlyn has also given millions of pounds to charity and has endowed a foundation that supports projects for improving older people’s lives. It has also given £3 million to the Royal College of Art. She has bought and restored a crumbling castle in Bagnols, in the Beaujolais region of France, on which she and her late husband spent £4 million to turn into a hotel.
Lady Hamlyn’s permanent home is a house in Chelsea, London, which is thought to be worth several million pounds, where she has entertained guests including Tony Blair. She also has a suite of rooms at the hotel in Beaujolais.
However, Lady Hamlyn insisted that her intention had only been to contribute to the Goan culture and economy. “I have spent time and money trying to make this project work because I love India and the people and wanted to give something back,” she said.
“Then earlier this year after I had employed an architect, drawn up the plans and started to clear the site, it emerged that they had changed their minds. I am furious and baffled at what they have done.”
She has told her solicitors to contact the Goan government for an explanation but has not yet received a reply. “The only reason I wanted to stay in the apartment was so that I could oversee the renovation work. If I or my family stayed there we would have paid rent. Now I want nothing to do with the Goan government and it is unlikely that I will ever be able to complete my dream,” she said.