New law would remove legislators’ right to reject SDOs
Special development orders, legislated for parliamentary scrutiny ten years ago, are no longer to go before the House of Assembly under legislation tabled on Friday.
But Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, told The Royal Gazette there were “no projects and no developments that I have seen or have been proposed that would benefit from these changes”.
“This is not in the context of any anticipated development.”
He said the Development and Planning Amendment Act 2021 would boost oversight by requiring public consultation of an environmental impact assessment of a proposed development before any SDO.
“None of that existed before this point,” he said. “There is going to be very clear and transparent procedure before any such approval is given, subject to negative resolution.”
The legislation “creates a higher threshold of protection for land”, he added.
The House heard on Friday that the Act also introduces the concept of protected conservation areas, off limits to development.
Subject to a landowner’s agreement, the conservation areas cover a sweeping range of categories, from reserves and cultivated arable land to woodlands and land carrying historic or cultural value.
The extra protection can be removed only by the legislature through affirmative resolution.
Mr Roban said it struck a balance between “the need for considered development and the higher protection of our land”.
He added that as Minister for Environment and Planning ten years ago, he had introduced legislation requiring SDOs to go before Parliament.
Controversial developments such as the Southlands proposal in Warwick and the cruise ship pier in Dockyard were never debated by MPs.
But Mr Roban told the Royal Gazette the island was in “a very different situation now”, with the new amendments ramping up protection while streamlining the planning process.
In a statement to MPs Mr Roban said developers had raised concerns over SDOs, which at present are held up until the House sits before they can be tabled.
That delay undercut the viability of a development, he said, citing a 2018 amendment to the Tucker’s Point SDO that would determine whether interested buyers could purchase lots of land – but which got delayed by three months.
Mr Roban said the latest amendments would male a thorough assessment of social, environmental and economic impacts a legal requirement before an SDO could be gazetted.
The move was said to be in keeping with the UK Convention on the Environment.
He also highlighted provisions for “an emergency development order during times of national emergency”.
“It can only be used after an emergency situation has been declared,” Mr Roban said. “Not by myself. It cannot be used arbitrarily.”
He said a medical facility that had to be quickly put in place to tackle an outbreak on a cruise ship was one example of a public health emergency.
In 2014, after back-to-back hurricanes Fay and Gonzalo inflicted widespread damage to buildings resulting in roofing slate shortages, the Government had to rush through paperwork to boost the island’s quarrying capacity.
Mr Roban added that any such decisions, while fast-tracked, must not contravene any legislative or policy directives such as building codes.
The legislation is to be debated by MPs before the House of Assembly rises for summer break later this month.