Deregulation is key to construction turnaround industry lobby group

Bermuda’s regulations must be streamlined in the face of dwindling prospects for the Island’s construction industry.

Construction Association head Charles Dunstan said members were concerned one of the local companies might go under once the big projects currently are completed.

“I don’t want to be involved in scaremongering, but people need to know there’s nothing much on the horizon,” he said. “Big general contractors are going to be struggling.”

With the new hospital wing to be finished in a year, Mr Dunstan said, Government needs to help pick up the pace of development.

He told The Royal Gazette: “What we’re hearing from some large scale potential developers, especially those from overseas who aren’t familiar with the local regulatory landscape, is the process can be quite disjointed.”

The Kaissa subcontracting director described “meetings with numerous committees, without a clear understanding of who the ‘key’ decision makers are, or who the priority committees are” — plus long waits to arrange meetings, and conferences “held in isolation with Ministries, often with little to no feedback thereafter”.

“All this leads to uncertainty,” he said.

Mr Dunstan said the Association was encouraged by the new Government’s announcement of an Economic Development Committee that would cut through development red tape.

But holdups remain at the Department of Planning, he added.

“While we are fully supportive that the Planning Dept has an important role for the long term sustainability of the island, and often these larger schemes can introduce complexities that take time to work through, there is much anecdotal evidence of inefficiency in handling simpler applications that would help to keep the industry moving.

“We can’t always drop all the blame on the doorstep of the Department, as they often point out that incomplete applications with insufficient information are a major cause of delays.

“However, knowing that, we need to make an effort to have the Planning Department run as efficiently as possible, to work through these problems as their contribution to getting the economy moving.”

Yesterday, Environment and Planning Minister Sylvan Richards said he had “several methods we’re looking at to improve efficiencies in Planning”.

Mr Dunstan said he was aware of numerous parties consulting with Government on speeding up the process.

In terms of large-scale projects, much of the business is currently resting on the KEMH work and the Waterloo House development.

Even a pickup in international business won’t benefit construction for years, he warned, because of what he estimates is a million square feet of empty office space in the Island.

“We don’t expect, from a construction point of view, anything major to come out international business any time soon.

“It could take 4,000 to 6,000 jobs to fill that office space.”

Mr Dunstan called on the Department of Immigration to make efficiency a priority — although he also said developers needed to play their part by keeping a good working knowledge of immigration policy requirements.

“One of the problems with the actual construction phase of a development is the timing,” he said.

“The contractor works for months to price and secure a job, and once the contract is awarded, often at the last possible moment for the client’s timeline, he is under the gun to get the operation up and running. He may have all his pieces lined up, but can’t pull the trigger on any applications until he has a contract in hand.”

Once a need for overseas expertise is established, a developer has “a very limited time to get that resource on his site and producing”, Mr Dunstan said.

“Any delays in the Immigration process have a direct impact on the schedule of the project, which more and more these days carry financial penalties for falling behind schedule.”

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Published Feb 28, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm)

Deregulation is key to construction turnaround industry lobby group

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