BEST calls for Planning overhaul to reduce opportunity for cronyism
Environment protection agency BEST is calling for an overhaul of Planning regulations to reduce incidences and perceptions of cronyism or political bias.
The group has made the call in the wake of controversial decisions by former Planning Minister Marc Bean, who overturned Development Applications Board rulings rejecting planning requests from two developers. The former Minister was also advised by experts to turn down any appeal.
In April 2012, Mr Bean, who held the portfolio under the Progressive Labour Party, upheld an appeal by lawyer Marc Daniels to build a five-storey apartment block in Sandys.
The request was rejected by the Development Applications Board, and planning experts made subsequent recommendations that the development should not go ahead for a host of environmental reasons.
Mr Daniels is a close personal friend of the former Minister, supported his bid for the PLP leadership following the partys election defeat last December and was appointed an Opposition Senator by Mr Bean after he assumed the leadership of the party. Mr Beans wife, an attorney, is employed by Sen Daniels law firm.
Last month another controversial Planning decision by Mr Bean — to uphold an appeal by developers to build an orphanage in Warwick — was quashed by the courts. The owners dropped plans to build on the lot and instead decided to sell the property shortly after Mr Bean granted planning approval.
Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce chairman Stuart Hayward said the two cases highlighted the need for Planning regulations to be revamped, arguing that appeals should be considered by an independent tribunal rather than a single Minister.
He pointed to another judicial review judgment opposing plans in 2010 to build a concession stand on Warwick Long Bay brought by BEST against the Environment Ministry. In that judgment Chief Justice Ian Kawaley described a system which allows a Government Minister to rule on a Planning appeal as problematic.
It may be that these appeal situations would be more justly served if heard by an independent tribunal, which could reduce incidences and perceptions of cronyism or political bias, Mr Hayward said.
In the Warwick Long Bay judicial review, the Minister gave zero reasons for his decision, which was noted by Justice Kawaley in his judgment. Justice Kawaley pointed to the inherent difficulty of requiring a member of the executive — the Minister — to perform a judicial function.
Our system only works when Cabinet Ministers, having been given unfettered discretion, consider it their duty to rise to a higher standard of accountability.
Mr Hayward also said that more needed to be done to inform area residents when a request for planning permission is first submitted as planning notices often lack detail and can be overlooked by interested parties.
The notice in the Official Gazette is supposed to provide information upon which stakeholders can make a decision whether or not to look more deeply into the development, Mr Hayward said.
We have made representations to the Ministry for notices in the Official Gazette to be more consistent. We have also suggested the adoption of practices in the UK and USA that neighbours of a proposed development be notified directly.
We are aware that there is a push by developers and related agents to reduce the requirements for public notification of developments. While BEST supports efforts to make the process more efficient, we are adamant that public interest and the environment not be sacrificed.