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Open space advocates have their farmland fears allayed

Bermuda Agricultural Group members Toi Wellman, left, with Susann Smith, Norwood Salaam and Frances Eddy on Tudor Farm at the West End (Photograph supplied)

Government this week allayed concerns that prime farmland at the West End was under threat from a developer.

Ageing buildings at Tudor Farm, on the border of Southampton and Sandys, are to be refurbished for continued agricultural use under a public-private partnership, according to the Ministry of Public Works.

The 10.36 acre property was bought by the Government for $2.9 million in 1989, when MPs agreed in the House of Assembly to “preserve the integrity of one of the few remaining agricultural units of its size in Bermuda”.

That move was in keeping with the wishes of its owners, the Terceira family, which included the late Clarence (Tessi) Terceira, a founding member of the United Bermuda Party and a former government minister.

Details emerged after a group using the farm highlighted that a construction company had been leased part of the land, sparking fears about its future.

Susann Smith, a founding member of the Bermuda Agricultural Group, said this week that OverNight Construction had demolished the old farmhouse in the spring and had been given approval to develop land designated open space reserve.

Dr Smith, a veterinarian, said her group was organising a petition against the move.

She added: “We are not interested in making the Government look bad; the current Government inherited this issue.

“Our primary interest is to hold them to account as stewards of our land.”

Dr Smith said that “within a week” of the farmhouse demolition, “our group was told verbally that we had to move, because the Government planned to lease the property to someone else”.

The head of OverNight Construction, Sanz “Kitty” Pearman, could not be reached for comment this week.

Peter Exell, who leased Tudor Farm until five years ago, said buildings there had become badly run down, including termites and hurricane damage.

A spokesman for Public Works said that in the 1990s, Bermuda Agricultural Group got a yearly licence to use parcels of land and buildings at the farm, with its last licence expiring in 2001.

BAG, which the spokesman said had been dormant for some years, has “not been properly constituted” since it lost charity status several years ago, and had not continued in its previous role at the farm – including the upkeep of buildings.

“As a result, the buildings allocated to them, along with others on the site, became in need of repairs.”

A planning application made by OverNight in September proposed changing two old farm buildings to residences.

Filed by architects Saltus Associates, the application states the change of use “will not have a detrimental impact on the open space reserve”.

It was given discretionary approval that month by the Development Applications Board, but Planning did not grant approval for industrial uses.

Dr Smith launched a petition this month on BAG’s Facebook page to appeal to the Government to designate the property as an agricultural park, and put the acreage zoned as open space “out to public tender to preserve it as a workable farm unit”.

BAG’s petition maintains that the lease to OverNight Construction was “disrupting our agricultural heritage”.

Dr Smith also filed a Public Access to Information to obtain the title deeds for the farm, only to be informed on November 27 that no record could be found of the document at the Department of Public Lands and Buildings.

She said the group’s aim has always been for Tudor Farm to be kept as “a model farm to serve the public”.

She added: “More and more people are getting interested in growing their own food, keeping backyard chickens and having community gardens.

“This Covid-19 crisis has not gone away and food supply chains are becoming heavily impacted world wide whereby food security is destabilising.”

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, said in 2018 that the Government’s aim was to “encourage more Bermudians to get into farming“, as outlined in the Progressive Labour Party’s 2017 platform.

Colonel Burch said in July that Government held 38 plots of arable farmland across the island, and planned to get community gardens up and running in every parish.

The ministry spokesman said Colonel Burch had met Dr Smith this year to hear the group’s concerns.

He said the group would have to update its charity status and give its proposal to the Government for the land, but that no plans had been shared to date – while BAG continued vegetable farming on the property.

The Department of Public Lands and Buildings is to renovate all buildings at the farm, with the residences to improve security for its current operators, JJ Produce, who hold the lease for its farmland.

The spokesman said OverNight Construction’s work would not include any industrial use.

He added: “The renovations and repairs in question are being considered under a public-private partnership initiative to help revitalise the property.”

The deal will include leasing one of the converted residences to the contractor in lieu of costs for the work.

The arrangement was said to be covered by the Government’s code of practice for project management and procurement.

The spokesman said no tendering process applied in the deal.

He added: “Most importantly, there is no direct charge to the public purse.”

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Published December 10, 2020 at 9:32 am (Updated December 10, 2020 at 9:31 am)

Open space advocates have their farmland fears allayed

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