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SDO debate in the Senate

Although there was a great deal to be encouraged about in Friday night's debate on the Tucker's Point Special Development Order, there are reasons to feel unhappy about the process and the final result.

Still, it is positive that Government was first prepared to make this SDO and all future ones open to a genuine public debate. Such a thing was unthinkable previously, and Environment Minister Walter Roban and the whole Government deserve credit for taking this step.

The debate itself was wholehearted, detailed and based on facts, both within Parliament and without. It covered a range of issues beyond the relatively narrow question of land use, given the legacy of Tucker's Town, that is not surprising and is welcome.

Big issues the fate of the resort and of tourism were weighed against the value of the open space in one of the biggest areas of open space left in Bermuda. In Tucker's Point's case, the fact that this is not the first SDO it has said it must have in order to survive, had to play a part.

For the most part, these issues were debated well, especially in the Senate by the Independent Senators Walwyn Hughes and Joan Dillas Wright. But they would not have been so well informed had it not been for the information campaign run by the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce (BEST)'s efforts. And the United Bermuda Party's consistency was also critical.

All of that forced Government to adjourn the debate last week and to seek a compromise.

And the concessions brought forward were significant. Several swathes of land were saved and some of them were transferred to Government and should therefore remain undeveloped.

That was a substantial achievement and Premier Paula Cox deserves credit for being flexible.

However, the fact that most of this took place behind closed doors and some Senators had very little notice of the changes, along with the public, is worrying. It can be argued that this was necessary in order to take the changes back to the House of Assembly for approval, which will be virtually automatic. But another week would not have made a difference.

So after a welcome public debate, the final act of the SDO was more secretive, which is not a good sign.

Of greater concern are the terms of the compromise. While it is understood that Tucker's Point has to sell some real estate to remain viable, the understanding has always been that the goal of this was to ensure that the hotel would be a success.

And one of the reasons the hotel has struggled is because it does not have enough rooms. So it seems strange that the major concession made by Tucker's Point is to drop a new hotel wing but to retain the residential components of the property, although some can be leased back to the hotel.

This appears to fly in the face that the SDO is critical to the success of the hotel and the tourism industry and makes it look much more like a real estate deal, which cannot be in the public interest.

For that reason, this compromise was not worth it. Although it is likely to pass in the House, it is not in the public interest for this SDO to be approved.

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Published March 28, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated March 28, 2011 at 10:24 am)

SDO debate in the Senate

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