Outcry as Minister approves Minister’s plan for warehouses at nature reserve
Health Minister Zane DeSilva “thumbed his nose” at the law to get his development plans approved on protected land, an environmental group has charged.
Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce (BEST) chairman Stuart Hayward said former Environment Minister Walter Roban should not have given approval to a fellow Minister, for a plan that would allow construction to encroach on the endangered wetlands of Devonshire Marsh.
Calling it a case of “Caesar appealing to Caesar”, Mr Hayward said it had been inappropriate for Mr DeSilva to appeal the Development Application Board’s rejection of his proposal by going to another Minister.
“The oft-touted principle of collective responsibility means essentially that the one arm of the collective Cabinet, albeit in his individual capacity, is appealing to another arm of the same Cabinet,” Mr Hayward said.
Requests for comment yesterday were not answered by either Mr DeSilva or Mr Roban.
The proposal for Zanzara Trust, which covers Mr DeSilva’s Island Construction business at 79 Middle Road, calls for three warehouses to be added to the site at the western end of the marsh.
The development plan was first advertised in August of last year, turned down early this year by Planning, and appealed in March.
Documents provided by BEST show that Mr Roban gave the green light to the development on the same day that Premier Paula Cox announced her shuffle of Cabinet, in which the former Environment Minister was switched to Public Works Minister.
That letter, dated November 2, overturns objections to the proposal by Planning Inspector Brian Field, and upholds Mr DeSilva’s appeal.
“It’s just really discouraging that a Minister’s company isn’t required to follow the letter of the law,” Mr Hayward said.
“Almost as [Mr Roban] was walking out the door, he approved this plan allowing the company to expand their facilities. This violates the spirit and letter of the Bermuda Plan, and it violates zoning regulations for agricultural land, for a nature reserve and for a water resources area.”
As well as three new warehouses, each at 20,000 square feet, the proposal calls for a new site entrance off Parsons Lane. Objectors included the National Trust and the Audubon Society, as well as Devonshire Church.
The proposal was originally turned down by Planning on the basis that it would encroach on an area zoned as nature reserve under the Bermuda Plan.
In a July 22 letter to Mr Roban, Mr Field said it had been difficult for technical officers to make an evaluation of the proposal because “so much basic information was missing from the application.”
The planning inspector went on: “Indeed, even for an in-principle application, in the opinion of technical officers, the proposal does not provide sufficient information to adequately assess the likely impacts on the natural and built environment or the roadway system surrounding the site. There also appear to be significant discrepancies between the application and site plan.”
The inspector also wrote that objectors to the plan had received no response from the applicant.
Mr Field concluded: “Given the paucity and inadequacy of information that accompanied the original application, and an appeal case which neither addresses the areas of concern raised by the Development Applications Board, nor attempts to make the case for such a significant departure from prevailing planning protocols for this locality, I have no option but to recommend that the appeal be dismissed.”
However, Mr Roban approved the appeal, writing: “I have reviewed the matter and am satisfied the conditions layed [sic] out by the Department of Planning are more than satisfactory to be approved permission in principle.”
Mr Hayward branded the decision “an affront to orderly development as laid out and accepted by Parliament in the Bermuda Plan 2008, and a blot on the Premier’s aspirations toward good governance”.
He added: “[I]t would seem a no-brainer that a Minister would decline to make such a momentous decision in the absence of adequate information.
“From experience we anticipate attempts will be made to sidetrack the focus from Planning law and policies where the focus should be, and divert the public’s attention to provisional conditions, conditions that will again be open to an appeal to the Minister.”
Island Construction has occupied the site since the mid-1950s.
Large areas of the nearby marsh lie under the protection of the National Trust and the Bermuda Audubon Society.
In its objection, the Audubon Society called the proposal “totally incompatible with the surrounding area of nature reserves”, according to the group’s President Andrew Dobson.
Their objection also noted that Island Construction’s site is low-lying, with limited protection for groundwater in the event of a spill.
Calling it “a sensitive environmental site”, the objection calls for no further construction in the area.
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