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Government seeking proposals for Southlands national park

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Southlands (File photograph)

The Government is seeking proposals to develop the Southlands national park through a public-private partnership.

A notice, published on the Government procurement website, said it was looking for expressions of interest to develop and use the Warwick property.

The notice said the Government was specifically looking for proposals to renovate or redevelop the seven cottages located on the park “for purposes that will be complementary to the National Park system”.

The Government was also interested in the development of “a new café, washrooms and beach equipment storage” on the portion of parkland south of South Road.

The notice added that the Government intends to add “public car parking spaces, picnic site, woodland walking tracks, events lawn and an historic WWII gun battery platform” to the area south of the road.

The work would also include improved access to the beach and reinforcement of a cliff face in the area.

A map of the site included in the notice showed the proposed a public car part on the western edge of the property with a public parking and events lawn on the far east, adjacent to the Bermudiana Beach Resort.

The proposed café, along with a picnic area, would be located overlooking South Shore west of the current beach access.

A planning application was previously submitted to create an events lawn and parking spaces on the land, with the project branded integral for the success of the neighbouring Bermudiana Beach Resort.

However that application sparked a series of objections from environmental groups and was rejected by the Development Application’s Board, who said the woodland reserve conservation areas should be preserved and the historic gun battery “does not appear to have been considered”.

The Government notice, published online on Friday, said the Government would “procure the designs and secure the necessary planning/building consent for the development of the restaurant and other ancillary facilities”, including the public car park, picnic site and woodland walking tracks.

The notice also highlighted proposed improvements to the northern side of the parkland, which would include better walking tracks, quarry gardens or ponds, the replacing of invasive species with endemic plants and arrangements for the cultivation of fruit trees, along with the preservation of the natural habitat.

“The open grassed lawn would also be improved for events and visitors’ resource centre would be created as part of the renovations to the main cottage,” the notice added.

Environmental charity responds to Government request for proposals

The Bermuda Audubon Society said that it was happy to see Southlands receiving the attention it needs – although it voiced concerns about some of the proposals.

A spokeswoman for the charity urged the Government to pay attention to the need to protect natural and undeveloped areas of the parkland, highlighting an area on the southeast of the property earmarked for an events lawn.

“This area is zoned Woodland Reserve and numerous mature native and endemic trees are thriving in this location,” she said.

“It provides a natural buffer between the roadway and the beach and serves as important habitat for plant and animal species.

“The supporting materials released by the Estates Department in this request suggest that this area is at risk.”

The spokeswoman noted that a planning application to develop that area as an events lawn and parking area had previously been submitted and rejected.

Another planning application was submitted for an events lawn for the property in August, but is now labelled “on hold”.

The spokeswoman said that a proposed restaurant, picnic area and parking lot were “appropriately” placed on the western side of the property, which is already cleared and “could be considered a brownfield site”.

She added: “It appears that the area allocated to the Café/Restaurant is quite large and out of proportion to what may be required in this location. However, we would have to see the proposals before we could comment further.

“We believe that special attention should be given to Prima Vera cottage, which sits in a small pocket surrounded by the main area of Woodland Reserve.

“Redevelopment of this structure may result in significant loss of woodland for construction and for access. It may also destroy the natural character of this part of the park. This should be avoided.”

The spokeswoman added that the charity looked forward to seeing proposals to restore the buildings on the land, which it said was “long overdue”, and voiced hope that any redevelopment would be complementary to the park.

“Southlands Park is a national treasure, and we eagerly await its renewal,” she said.

The documents also warned prospective applicants that extensive restoration work would be needed on the cottages located on the property to bring them up to code.

“Full structural and services investigations are therefore required to ascertain the full details of structural and service works that will be necessary to put them to beneficial uses,” the notice said.

The deadline for submissions from interested parties is 3pm on December 12.

The main house at the Southlands property - one of seven cottages on the site. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Government formally obtained the 37-acre Southlands estate in 2012 as part of a land swap involving 80 acres of brownfield land at Morgan’s Point.

The move was celebrated by environmentalists, who had campaigned since 2007 to protect the site from a hotel development.

The property was formally declared a national park in 2017 but, while several clean-ups have take place, concerns have been raised about the site falling into disrepair.

Invasive species such as Mexican pepper, Indian laurel and morning glory were in abundance at the site, with some of the plants growing into the dilapidated buildings.

Last year, the Government launched an online survey which asked the public to express their views about how the property could be improved.

The survey options include restrooms, a café, a restaurant, a visitor centre, gift shop, beach concession, picnic areas and if it should be pet friendly.

The survey also asks participants to rate possible uses in order of importance, including research and educational centres, weddings and events.

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Published September 20, 2022 at 9:37 am (Updated September 20, 2022 at 7:50 pm)

Government seeking proposals for Southlands national park

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