Coastline threat from climate change to be assessed
The threat of climate change to the island’s coastal areas will be assessed as part of a blueprint for future development.
Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said the Bermuda Plan 2018, which replaced the Bermuda Plan 2008, was a balancing act created to conserve open areas but allow sufficient development potential to meet the country’s needs.
He was speaking as the Plan, which details zoning to help manage the island’s built and natural environment, was passed in the House of Assembly on Friday.
Mr Roban said that some of the biggest changes in the 2018 Plan included the rezoning of 20 acres of conservation land to tourism for the St Regis hotel.
Mr Roban said the Planning Tribunal that had overseen the process has recommended that a new coastal study should be carried out to gauge the potential threat of climate change.
He added: “It was specifically noted that there is continuing development pressures on coastal areas.
“As such, the impacts of climate change on Bermuda’s shores must be comprehensively assessed to determine the continued viability of development along the coastline.”
Mr Roban said that the suggestion was supported by the ministry and would work well with the efforts to develop a marine management plan for the island.
Jarion Richardson, the Shadow Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, agreed that the Government needed to consider the threat of climate change.
But Mr Richardson highlighted that only about two per cent of the island was zoned for tourism.
He said there had been partial rezoning away from tourism at Harmony Hall, Pink Beach and Tucker’s Point, and complete rezoning of former tourism properties like The Breakers.
He said: “This speaks to the problems with our tourism product, to the problems we are having with our tourism industry altogether.
“We have less land being used for that purpose and that can’t bode well.”
MPs heard the Bermuda Plan 2018 attracted 457 objections and counter objections during a consultation process.
Mr Roban said the most common objections were from landowners who wanted to remove agricultural or woodland reserve zoning from their land.
He added: “This has been a common theme of objections to previous draft plans and reflects land owners wanting development potential for their properties.”
Christopher Famous, a government backbencher, said he had confidence in Mr Roban’s commitment to the environment.
He added: “It is not just a blanket plan for the whole island but a plan that addresses each parish and community in their individual way.”
Mr Famous raised concerns about the use of farmland for development and said that Bermuda must avoid becoming “a concrete jungle”.
He added: “We don’t want our children growing up asking where is the green space.”
Susan Jackson, an Opposition MP, said: “Because we get caught up in our own personal ambitions to ensure we have a wonderful lifestyle … there has got to be a thread of responsibility.
“We are responsible for this valuable, unique, beautiful island.”
Ms Jackson said it would be wise to consider filling vacant commercial space with “a residential component” before other options were considered.
Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, said coastal erosion he had seen in recent years was “astounding”.
He added: “My recommendation is for the Government to consider a larger setback in regards to any planning applications that are presented that impact our coastline.”
Mr Simons also asked what mitigation efforts were being made to tackle flooding problems in low-lying areas such as Mill Creek in Pembroke.
Mr Roban said that policies contained in the plan were designed to reduce or eliminate the risk of flooding.
He added: “As new development arises in those industrial areas, the environmental factors and considerations will be raised as a higher priority.
“There will be mitigation strategies that will need to be employed to address the issues of flooding.
“We will also have to work with the owners of the properties there … this can not just be government fixing the problems where private development has created the challenge.”
Mr Simons said he supported an increase in the amount of agricultural land in Bermuda to “help us to become more economically self sufficient.”
He added that he would support a campaign to plant trees, including orchards that would produce fruit and contribute to the economy.
Mr Roban said that only half of Bermuda’s 700 plus acres of agricultural land was used for farming.
He added he would look at ways to increase farmland use and would also promote non-traditional agricultural methods such as vertical farming.