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Greater transparency needed in Planning procedures, urge campaigners

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Environmental campaigners have renewed calls for Planning procedures to be made more open in a bid to stop developments getting the go-ahead behind closed doors.

The Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce (BEST) spoke out after Environment Minister Sylvan Richards said he saw no need for procedural changes to be made.

Mr Richards said that, although he was not an expert on Planning issues, he thought it right that an individual Minister should have the final say on whether a development can go ahead — regardless of any recommendations from technical experts.

“I am content to rely on the judgement of the Independent Inspector — unless there is something glaringly awry that I do not accept,” he told the Bermuda Sun.

Last month

The Royal Gazette revealed that former Environment Minister Marc Bean gave the go-ahead for a five-storey development on coastal reserve submitted by his close friend and political ally, Senator Marc Daniels — even though the application was rejected by the Development Applications Board and Mr Bean was subsequently advised by the Independent Inspector to turn down any appeal. Currently, the Minister has sole discretion to uphold an appeal, regardless of the advice he receives from experts.

And while a request for Planning permission and the subsequent ruling by the DAB is announced publicly, rejected requests can be appealed and upheld without either action being made public. As a result, objectors to a development may be unaware that permission has been granted until the bulldozers move in.

Last night BEST chairman Stuart Hayward said that, once an appeal to the Minister has been made by developers who have had projects initially rejected by the DAB, it should be made public so that concerned parties can submit objections or launch a judicial review.

“If an application is viewed by us as straightforward, one we don't need to get involved in because we believe the Planning Department and the DAB will deal with it effectively, then we won't submit an objection,” Mr Hayward said.

“However, if the DAB's decision is appealed, we may not learn about that appeal until after it has been decided. Because we didn't object, we are not a party to the application and therefore not in the information loop as the application moves to the appeal stage.

“The problem arises in that there is no straightforward way to be apprised of DAB application decisions that have been appealed. Often we aren't aware of an appeal until the decision triggers the media's attention.

“Let me be clear, we are not looking for special treatment. Members of the general public should have ready access to information about issues that will affect them, and planning issues where the result of an appeal would allow development that is not normally permitted is an issue that affects almost everyone.

“Cabinet Ministers, like all elected leaders, are accountable to the electorate. If that's the system we're going to depend on then the electorate has to be informed about the actions of their elected leaders. It would actually be of benefit for Cabinet Ministers to have their decisions out in the open.

“We need to do better about keeping the electorate informed, especially about Planning issues as Bermuda becomes more densely populated and more developed. One step in that direction would be to require a public notice at the site for site-altering developments.

“Another step would be the publication of appeals in the Official Gazette just like is now required for applications.”

Minister of Environment and Planning: Sylvan Richards
BEST chairman: Stuart Hayward

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Published May 08, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 07, 2013 at 11:16 pm)

Greater transparency needed in Planning procedures, urge campaigners

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