Minister approved planning appeal for another PLP MP
Minister Wayne Furberts bid to build homes, rejected by planning officials, was granted permission by Progressive Labour Party colleague Walter Roban on his last day as Environment Minister.
The Planning Board had turned down Mr Furberts proposal after conservation officers said the land, at his Hamilton Parish home, should be reserved for agricultural purposes.
But in one of his final acts before stepping down to become Public Works Minister, Mr Roban upheld Mr Furberts appeal so that the development can go ahead. Mr Furbert had lodged his appeal more than six months earlier.
Mr Roban made the decision on the same day he also controversially overturned a ruling from planning officials who wanted to block fellow Minister Zane DeSilva from building warehouses on Devonshire Marsh.
Government yesterday released a statement on that matter, saying Mr Robans approval of Mr DeSilvas application is dependent on a number of conditions being met. New Environment Minister Marc Bean told The Royal Gazette: I just came in and I received the file and I will review the file.
However, Mr Roban did not respond when asked on what grounds he upheld Mr Furberts appeal.
The One Bermuda Alliance and environmentalists accuse Mr Roban of acting unethically in his final moments as Environment Minister on November 2.
Mr Furberts application, made through the Cyrus Trust, is to create two residential lots on a lawn area at his house in Brown Estates Road.
The former United Bermuda Party leader told The Royal Gazette of his application yesterday: All we are doing is switching one piece of land with another piece of land and the Minister said it was appropriate.
He added that the land had been given a Section 34, explaining: They switched a piece that we could build on for a piece that was arable. The land that could be built on now becomes arable.
I had no idea that it would be signed. When it was appealed, I was not a Minister and applied as an ordinary citizen.
Mr Furberts initial application was lodged in December 2010. It was refused by the Board on April 20, with Mr Furbert lodging his appeal on April 26.
The Planning Departments website states the appeal was upheld on November 2. That was the date Mr Bean replaced Mr Roban as Environment Minister in a Cabinet reshuffle; yesterday Mr Bean confirmed the decision had been made before he took up the position.
A memo from Acting Director of Department of Conservation Services Philippe Rouja to Planning Director Trevor Leach, dated April 5, states: The Department of Conservation Services considers that the proposed subdivision of the Agricultural Reserve zoning is NOT in keeping with the arable site conditions; or conservation principles of the Bermuda Plan; and consequently NOT supported by this Department.
An analysis of the site found reasonable soil quality which could be easily improved, according to the memo.
There are numerous examples of parcels with similar conditions being used for crops such as carrots, stated Dr Rouja.
A number of above ground agricultural and horticultural uses are applicable at this site. Our Department recommends that development potential should be limited to the existing substantial development zoned area.
It added: The site under consideration should remain as an agricultural area of the existing greater lot with Agricultural Reserve zoning protecting this area for amenity, horticultural or agricultural utility.
The application as submitted is misleading as the site plan DOES NOT show the substantial residential and other structures currently existing on this lot.
The site plan should reasonably be expected to provide at minimum the footprint of existing structure and hard surfacing: the current site plan gives the impression the lot is vacant.
Mr DeSilvas plan, lodged by Zanzara Trust which covers his company Island Construction, is for three warehouses at the western end of Devonshire Marsh.
It was rejected by planning officials because of significant discrepancies and insufficient information about the environment impact of the project.
Shadow Environment Minister Michael Fahy said in a statement yesterday: As of 5pm today, there has been no comment from either Minister DeSilva or Minister Roban on the latest example of unethical behaviour.
Too often there seems to be an attitude that if no response is given the story will simply go away. That is not good enough.
The Ministers are ultimately responsible to the public. In other jurisdictions Ministers have been forced to resign over much less.
Senator Fahy said the public should ask themselves whether they are satisfied the Ministers have acted in an honourable manner.
Are they satisfied that there is no abuse of public office? he said.
Are they satisfied this is not business as usual? Are they satisfied that the decisions made are in the best interests of the Country?
He also poured scorn on Premier Paula Coxs claims she is leading Bermuda into a new era of good governance.
In our view the behaviour of the two Ministers is not representative of good governance or moving forward together or resetting the dial, though it may be an example of Building One Another Together, the theme of Premier Coxs recent Throne Speech, said Sen Fahy.
Whatever the case, it is the same dubious behaviour the Country is sick of. The OBA is very much in favour of a comprehensive overhaul of Planning laws, rules and regulations to streamline the Planning and appeals process, but also to curtail the ability of Environment Ministers to make such strange decisions.
We believe the behaviour demonstrated by these two Ministers which, given the principle of collective responsibility, their colleagues are tarnished with, is unacceptable, unethical and wrong: a total affront to good governance.
Whats more, they dont seem to care what people think, or perhaps they were hoping no one would notice. Its completely disrespectful to the people of Bermuda; just one more example of me first over Bermuda first.
lLast night Government issued a statement regarding the in-principle planning decision given for the proposed development at Devonshire Marsh. See story on Page 2.
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