Entrepreneur David Johnson is building an empire in the British Virgin Islands to rival Richard Branson's Necker

Chris Bown
David Johnson has moved to the island of Gorda
When Sir Richard Branson arrived in the British Virgin Islands, he was sufficiently smitten that he bought his own island, Necker. It’s easy to see why. This Caribbean tropical paradise enjoys a sunny season stretching to 10 months of the year, while gentle waves from a clear blue sea lap the BVI’s many sandy beaches. The British Overseas Territory is safe and quiet, with a stable, low-tax economy.
Branson is not the only one to fall for the islands’ charms, and among the latest to join him is seasoned American developer David Johnson. He’s moved to the nearby island of Gorda to build a community and offer a lucky few a slice of his paradise.

The Great Room in the 5,000sqft Seashell beach villa

It covers just eight square miles, yet Gorda is the third largest island among the BVI, with a population of close to 4,000 people. In the north east corner of the island, Johnson is building Oil Nut Bay, a community that aims to combine plentiful green space with all the creature comforts of modern life.
Johnson has agreed with authorities there will be no more than 88 villas across 400 acres to ensure there’s plenty of green space in between.

An aerial view of Gorda island

Building in such beautiful surroundings brings responsibilities, and Johnson is taking his legacy seriously. Solar power, composting and recycling are used throughout the island, while residents are encouraged to use electric carts instead of cars: “Our goal is to get to carbon neutral,” he says. Far from being a gated enclave, the villas are “a home base for exploring the island.” There’s also a beach club (with a kids club) and – vitally for those with work to do – good broadband and phone connections. To date, 30 plots have been sold, with more villas underway.

A poolside terrace at the Jewel Box Villa

Buyers select a property from one of eight designs, with finishes restricted to an approved palette of natural materials. Trophy architecture is strictly forbidden: “We don’t want one upmanship,” says Johnson, though there is more flexibility on interior fit-outs. Villa plots can be bought from $2m, while completed homes cost from $4m. Buyers usually opt to use the developer’s construction team.
So far, around a third of buyers are European, “and we’re going to build on that in the future” says Johnson. An integral part of his plan is a new runway, which BVI authorities have approved. It should open in a couple of years to allow flights direct from Florida and New York – and potentially Europe – so travellers don’t need to catch a connecting flight from St Martin or Antigua.

The master bedroom at the Seashell beach villa

The villas can be an investment, too, not just a pure indulgence. Around a third of buyers use mortgage funding, while many rent out their properties when they’re not there, further promoting tourism. “We are a strong economic engine for the BVI,” says Johnson, whose management company handles all property maintenance as well as rental marketing. And he’s permanently based on-site: “If anyone’s not happy, they can bang on my door.”
On sale with Knight Frank International, call 020 7861 1097 or visit oilnutbay.com.

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