BEST: Tucker’s Point a quantum leap moment
It has been a groundbreaking year full of encouraging developments for the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, according to its chairman Stuart Hayward.
Mr Hayward told The Royal Gazette that the Protective Costs Order (PCO) secured by BEST's lawyers in their appeal against Tucker's Point development plans represented a “quantum leap” in the legitimacy and potency of non-governmental organisations.
He described 2014 as BEST's “busiest year so far” but acknowledged 2015 would present major challenges to safeguard farmland and ensure a more “proactive” approach to informing residents of proposed developments.
“We may have lost the Tucker's Point appeal, but a number of positives came out of the process; most notably the Protective Costs Order that the Chief Justice awarded us,” said Mr Hayward.
“It had never been presented to the courts in Bermuda before and it means that any organisation that operates in the public interest can not be denied access to the courts because of lack of funds.
“The PCO shielded us against costs if we lost, but also put a cap on what our lawyers could get if we won.
“It is enormously significant. It may not be something that is presented frequently but it has meant a quantum leap in the powers of non-governmental organisations.
“It has an enormous impact on the legitimacy and potency of public-orientated, grass-roots organisations.
“Another knock-on effect from this is that developers will be more inclined to talk through issues than following the adversarial route that the legal system operates in.”
This year BEST has supported residents' groups to successfully object to the uprooting of old trees in Hamilton and the installation of a cell phone tower in Devonshire. Mr Hayward said these were excellent examples of citizen empowerment.
“There have been many examples of the community taking the lead this year,” he said.
“The Ewing Street trees was a highly visible success that has elevated the awareness of the community to the value of our trees.
“A resident literally jumped in front of a truck to stop them being uprooted and that has not happened in Bermuda before.
“From an activism standpoint it was significant and also from a policy standpoint because the Corporation of Hamilton revised its policy.”
Referring to residents' attempts to prevent a cell phone tower being built in Devonshire Mr Hayward added: “A citizens' group was able to mount 230 objections to the cell tower application. That is quite an achievement.
“The Development Applications Board even held a hearing on the issue and although they allowed the application, the residents together with BEST appealed the decision and won.
“For citizens, it was an earth-shaking moment and it means applicants and developers are aware that the community will stand up to them and they can not bulldoze their way through.”
BEST has vowed to continue its fight against the erosion of the Island's farmland in 2015.
The group will also work towards placing developers under a greater duty to make residents aware of their building plans.
“Protecting the Island's farmland will continue to be a priority for BEST next year,” said Mr Hayward.
“We have seen at the old Pink Beach Club that farmland is being withered away and replaced by new development.
“It is something we come up against again and again.
“As there becomes more and more pressure to make use of farmland, we are going to have to articulate strongly against this.
“There is also likely to be increased conflict between industrial and residential space, whether it's fugitive dust or noise or smells or transportation in and out.
“By this time next year I would like to see a marine development plan formulated for the coastline and enclosed bodies of water.
“The plan would stipulate things that should not be allowed above a certain depth and provide discharge regulations for boat yards about what ends up going back into the sea.”