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Minister rejects appeal and approves MP’s development plans

Sensitive issue: Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, has upheld a decision to allow a proposed development at the Devonshire headquarters of Island Construction. (File photograph)

A construction company owned by a government backbencher will be allowed to build three warehouses near its premises – after the Minister of Home Affairs rejected an appeal against the project.

Island Construction, which is owned by Progressive Labour Party MP Zane DeSilva, was given the green light by the Development Applications Board last August to erect three two-storey maintenance and storage buildings near the company’s Middle Road headquarters in Devonshire. Five staff apartments were also included in the plan.

An appeal against the proposal was launched by a coalition of environmental groups made up of the Bermuda National Trust, the Bermuda Audubon Society, and the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce.

They argued that the proposal failed to give proper attention to the area’s zoning as Open Space Reserve. The location is near Devonshire Marsh and is surrounded on three sides by nature reserve and open space.

The protesters were backed by an independent inspector who said that, because of the “sensitive nature” of the site, planning approval should not be granted at least until an impact study had been conducted.

“It is clear from the way in which the appeal site has been managed over the years that the applicant has little regard for the impact that the industrial activities on their site can have on the adjoining nature reserve,” the appeal said.

“With container parking right on the boundary there is little separation between the industrial use and the nature reserve and incidents resulting from the industrial activities at the site have caused damage to the marsh environment in the past.”

But Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, has now rejected that appeal.

In his written decision, Mr Roban acknowledged that an independent inspector had recommended the plan be turned down – but highlighted the longstanding history of industrial use for the property.

Mr Roban said: “While I appreciate the inspector's assessment of the appeal, the industrial activity that has existed on this site since the 1960s – which was confirmed as being established by a Court judgment in the 1990s – must be recognised.

“Notwithstanding the on-site operation, the Conservation Base Zone has remained and as such the site is zoned Open Space Reserve under the Bermuda Plan 2018.”

Mr Roban also noted that the application had not garnered any objections from the Pollution Control Section or the Terrestrial Conservation Officer from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and recommendations from the Department had been incorporated.

Mr Roban’s decision was described as “shocking” by the Bermuda National Trust.

Karen Border, the trust’s executive director, said: “All Bermudians should be very concerned by minister Roban’s decision to disregard the recommendation of an independent planning inspector and allow major new industrial development to go ahead on the Island Construction site at Devonshire Marsh.”

Ms Border said that the development would threaten the purity of water at Devonshire Marsh and also increase the risk of fires in the area.

She added: “The proposed new use of the Island Construction site for container storage and haulage will also increase heavy traffic at an already dangerous junction.

“It is shocking that this new use has been allowed without a traffic impact assessment, which the Highways Department itself stated would normally be expected.

“BNT and other environmental organisations have been fighting increased industrial activity at the Island Construction site for decades and, until now, the environmental arguments have largely prevailed when it came to planning applications.

“The zoning of the site as open space has been repeatedly upheld in successive Bermuda Plans, in recognition of the environmental importance of the marsh as a whole, and the fact that the site is surrounded on three sides by nature reserves and open space.

“It is an extremely sad day for Bermuda that protection of our environment should now be set aside, especially when most people are more aware than ever of the priceless value of our precious natural resources.”

The Bermuda Audubon Society also expressed disappointment at the decision.

A spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed in the minister and in the system that allows development that is detrimental to the environment and the health and wellbeing of the people of Bermuda to go forward.”

Mr DeSilva welcomed the decision and said that it had been “a long battle” to get final approval.

Referring to the appeal filed by the National Trust and the Audubon Society, Mr DeSilva said: “Those two particular organisations object to everything and, in particular, they’ve had a bee in their bonnets with Island Construction for the last 30 years.

“But this location has been an industrial site since before the planning department existed. We had a court case in 1991 and a judge ruled that this was an industrial site.

“The fact of the matter is that the application was approved by the Development Applications Board. I understand that the appeal was filed three weeks late but the minister, in his wisdom, was still willing to hear it anyway. That’s fine.

“I find it interesting that we used to rent some property from the National Trust but they took it back and have built some concrete stables on it. Did I object to that?”