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Scott: Environmentalists tried to ‘take over’ sustainable development

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Environmentalists attempted a “takeover” of the sustainable development initiative, according to former Premier Alex Scott.

The claim has been strongly rejected by Stuart Hayward a prominent environmentalist, sustainability advocate and member of the Sustainable Development Roundtable during Mr Scott's administration.

But both men agree that the Sustainable Development Department should never have been moved from the centre of Government to the Ministry of the Environment.

Mr Scott has been critical of the handling of the sustainable development initiative since he left office.

But he was also candid about the challenges he faced in its early days — both from within his Cabinet and from some members of the Sustainable Development Roundtable.

The former Premier envisaged that the Roundtable, while appointed by the Premier, would be an advisory body which would also champion the cause of sustainability in public and offer constructive criticism if Government strayed from the national sustainable development strategy.

He also placed the sustainable development unit, which later became a fully fledged department in the centre of government — at Cabinet Office — because of the cross-cutting nature of its work.

“The regret I have with the environmentalists on the Roundtable was, rather than assisting us in taking off and developing the sustainable development programme, they were trying to take it over,” Mr Scott said.

He added that the environmentalists felt it was a “green” initiative while his administration had envisioned it as a cross-ministry initiative which would ensure that policy takes into account economic, social and environmental impacts.

Mr Hayward, who went on to found the Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Task Force (BEST), rejected Mr Scott's claims.

“To the degree that there were any moves to ‘take it over', they would have been motivated by a desire to move the process forward, as it had bogged down quite a bit,” he said.

“Also, the impetus to get things moving again was shared by representatives of the business and social communities on the Roundtable, not just the environmentalists.”

He said he had always taken viewed the environment as “multifaceted” embracing the physical, cultural, social and political.

“Whoever put the Sustainable Development Department and the Roundtable under the Environment Ministry, they were the ones who missed Mr Scott's philosophy. No environmentalists I know of on the Roundtable made the decision on which Ministry the Sustainable Development Department should fit into. We weren't even asked.”

Former Premier Paula Cox put the SDD in the newly created Ministry of Environment Planning and Infrastructure Strategy when she reconfigured Cabinet in late 2010.

Mr Scott said that Bermuda's approach to sustainable development got global attention. As a framework for decision-making, it proved useful in resolving conflicts.

“When there was the danger that Southlands was going to be developed as a hotel site, I turned to the owners and said this could be a win for both.

“We can provide you a site that better suits your needs than this pristine area and Mr Duperreault and Mr Hunt and Mr Christensen listened. While the environmentalists were fighting the owners, I was working with them.

“That's the thesis of sustainable development. And when the hospital's initial plans looked as if they would encroach upon the Botanical Gardens, again I stepped back and we listened to the criticism and we redrew and approached the hospital development from a sympathetic and architectural rationale that met with the public reaction.”

But he added that he was unsurprised at his successor Ewart Brown's decision to “drop some of the environmentalists who were so busy being argumentative”.

“They were at the centre of the sustainable development initiative,” Mr Scott said. “I think they lost their way. Those at the table could have done what ironically BEST and all these groups say — we should work together — but when given the opportunity they spent their energies trying to take over.”

Mr Hayward said: “There needed to be more than lip service to the idea of working together. The clearest example was when the announcement came down that the hospital was going to be constructed using one-third of the Island's only Botanical Gardens. The Roundtable, which was supposed to be advising the government on sustainability issues, didn't hear about the scheme until it was announced in the media.”

Mr Scott was reminded that he had expected the Roundtable to help keep Government accountable to the cause.

“You don't hold Government's feet to the fire to the detriment of making progress,” he responded.

“You didn't have to hold government's feet to the fire because government was the one the created the Roundtable in the first place.”

He said: “Cabinet was committed to it. But when the Roundtable became so argumentative they said they are not progressive, that's a regressive group trying to take it over.”

Mr Hayward acknowledged that Mr Scott had played a pivotal role in bringing sustainable development to the fore.

“We hope Mr Scott continues to feel proud of what he accomplished in launching the SD project and in the process he followed of broad community consultation,” he said.

The national sustainable development strategy that emerged is a “monument to his leadership”.

Mr Scott's administration allocated unbudgeted Cabinet Office funds to get the project up and running in 2006 with a national consultation led by a team of seconded civil servants and a foreign consultant. It now has a $500,000 budget and three full-time staffers.

While some critics within Government have questioned whether the SDD is providing value for taxpayer dollars, others privately question whether there is enough political will to ensure the success of the initiative.

SD Roundtable chair Philip Seaman has said he is not required to speak to the press, and Environment Minister Sylvan Richards did not respond to our requests for comment.

Former Premier Alex Scott
Stuart Hayward

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Published October 16, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 17, 2013 at 9:43 pm)

Scott: Environmentalists tried to ‘take over’ sustainable development

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