Concerns over planning rule change
Planning applications will be more difficult to keep track of because of a change in the way they are advertised, the head of an island environmental charity said.
Kim Smith, the executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, said the charity was “very concerned” that the Department of Planning's method of publicising applications “no longer serves the public”.
She added: “Under the guise of ‘streamlining processes', Government is reducing transparency and making the monitoring of planning applications more difficult.
“The public has a right to know what and where development is being proposed without having the onerous burden of daily checks of the Official Gazette.
Ms Smith said BEST had reviewed applications for development in or near areas with protective zonings since 2011.
She added that the list of planning applications “until recently” was advertised on Fridays, or on a Wednesday if a Friday fell on a holiday, with the deadline for objections 14 days after publication.
The Government last week advised the public to use the online Official Gazette to view development applications.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs said that the move online had allowed planners “to take a more efficient and streamlined approach towards the advertisements of planning applications”.
She added that the online gazette provided several benefits to the planning process, including that official notices could now be gazetted any day of the week, and that the public could access current and past applications any time.
But Ms Smith said that BEST did not support the change.
She added: “This change further erodes the public's ability to monitor planning applications, already hindered by the discontinuance of advertising applications in The Royal Gazette, which disadvantages anyone without online access.
“Now, anyone wanting to monitor planning applications will have to check the online Official Gazette every day of the week, just in case an application in which they are interested might appear.
“The deadline for objections to applications will no longer be once every two weeks, but staggered 14 days after an applications is received.”
Ms Smith said that development demand remained strong in Bermuda and that the planning department should balance “well-considered” development with conservation policies and environmental protection.
She added: “Unfortunately, present planning practices seem to be leaning towards making it easier for developers and more difficult for those in support of more sustainable development in Bermuda.”
But the spokeswoman said that the planning department's use of the online gazette had improved transparency.
The spokeswoman explained: “The public is now able to peruse the online gazette daily for planning applications instead of having to wait until the end of each work week.
“It should be noted that the online gazette has been utilised by the planning department for over a year, with the only change being advertisements are now posted daily rather than once a week.”
The spokeswoman said that advertising planning applications only once a week had “drastically slowed” the progress of applications.
She added that the move to the online gazette was “in the best interest, and at the request, of the general public”.