Created: Jul 14, 2021 07:54 AM
Opposition Leader Cole Simons said the House of Assembly had shown the importance of debating Special Development Orders like the one for Riddell’s Bay, pictured. Now the government wants to take that power away, he said. (Photo provided)
Cole Simons, Leader of the Opposition (photo by Akil Simmons)
The One Bermuda Alliance has joined with environmental groups to oppose proposed changes to land use planning legislation.
The amendments, tabled earlier this month by Home Secretary Walter Roban, would eliminate the need to debate Special Development Orders in the House of Assembly, although public consultation would become mandatory.
Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, said the changes would reverse policies put forward by Roban himself in 2011 to improve transparency.
Mr Simons said: “He made it clear that the treatment of all SDOs under the affirmative resolution would ensure greater transparency and allow the public to comment and discuss these SDOs openly.
“Now the government is no longer interested in this level of transparency when it comes to major capital developments of national interest.
“If the minister does what he wants, these projects would be approved without consultation or debate in Parliament. “
Mr. Simons added: “Who are the benefactors of these projects? What is driving this unexpected change?
“What did they promise and to whom, that requires less parliamentary control?”
He said last year the House of Assembly debated an SDO for Riddells Bay and the process moved quickly with “careful consideration and scrutiny, vigorous debate and multi-party approval.”
Mr Simons added: “During the parliamentary debate of the SDO of Riddells Bay, Mr Roban stressed that this special order of development provides a framework which guarantees absolute transparency throughout the debate in the House, in particular on matters of national interest. “
He also echoed concerns expressed by the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Task Force that the Fairmont Southampton could be allowed to “move from a tourist establishment to a real estate agency” under the amended law.
Mr Simons added that the government’s inconsistent approach to issues such as SDO and Covid-19 regulations would further erode public trust.
He said: “Evidence of this was made apparent in the weeks that followed and more recently with the Cannonier-Watson family’s act of civil disobedience.
“As Leader of the Opposition, I continue to sound the alarm bells because Bermuda demands less division and more respect and fairness for all Bermuda.
“This country wants transparency, fairness and certainly more accountability.”
The Bermuda Audubon Society has also said it strongly opposes proposed changes to the SDO process.
A spokesperson for the company said: “Special Development Orders exist to allow developments that would not be in line with the policies and guidelines of Bermuda’s current plan. The Bermuda Plan 2018 has just been approved.
“This is a complex policy document that has been developed with numerous contributions from the public and stakeholders with the aim of ‘effectively managing Bermuda’s natural and built environment, resources and development and to assist to build healthy and sustainable communities ”.
“Any development that has to bypass these policies should be of critical importance to the national interest – it is in the interest of all Bermuda and not just the economic interest or the desirability of developers.”
Mr Roban said the Development and Planning Amendment Act 2021 will establish a higher level of oversight of special development orders.
“At the moment, public consultation is discretionary,” Roban said Thursday. “This legislation makes it mandatory, as well as an appropriate environmental analysis. For me, that’s a higher threshold.
Mr Roban said the island has been in “a different economic environment” since parliamentary oversight of ESOs took effect in 2011.
“We appreciate the value of public consultation even more.
“International best practice is to allow consultation and there has been substantial case law in the courts that supports going in this particular direction. “