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Natural beauty being challenged by building mindset

Dear Sir,

It looks like, once again, we are going to see a large area of green space disappear under concrete as a result of a Special Development Order — this time at the Fairmont Southampton on the South Shore, still one of the loveliest areas of Bermuda enjoyed by visitors.

The 2009 Southampton Princess SDO allowed for 130 fractional tourism and residential units to be built. Until a planning application has been submitted, we won’t know the full extent of the new proposal. However, the master plan discussed at a preliminary scoping meeting between Bermuda Environmental Consulting — on behalf of Gencom — and environmental non-governmental organisations in May 2021 showed well in excess of 300 units planned.

If this is still the plan, it seems very likely that a further SDO will be sought and granted, allowing for this increased number, which would saturate the property with villas — and related driveways and car parks. Just the golf course, or part of the golf course, and a tiny amount of manicured garden around the hotel itself would be left undeveloped. And with the change to the approval process for SDOs passed by Parliament last year, it will be possible for a new SDO to be granted without the opportunity for a full parliamentary debate on whether this is the right way ahead for Bermuda.

Fairmont Southampton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Bermuda National Trust absolutely understands the need to revive our tourism industry for the sake of jobs and the local economy. However, allowing every inch of tourism-zoned land to be built on with residential units is simply not sustainable. One by one, every one of the properties zoned for tourism is being converted to maximum building coverage. Are we really simply going to accept the argument that this is the only way to save our tourism industry, and might it not actually kill off the very visitor demand that it is supposed to create?

It is in just this fashion, sacrificing our open space piece by piece, that Bermudians will one day wake up to an island where the only natural green areas left for residents — and tourists — to enjoy will be the land protected for the community by the Bermuda National Trust and the Bermuda Audubon Society, and our national parks. The hotel properties themselves will be so built-up that our visitors will look out of their rooms on to little more than a sea of white roofs.

An independent consultant for Westend Properties and Gencom was quoted by The Royal Gazette as describing the Turtle Hill parcel of land slated for development as “completely vacant”. It is this attitude to our natural, green spaces that puts our island at risk of becoming nothing but a concrete jungle.

The land is not “vacant”. It is occupied by trees and other green plants that provide us with oxygen and cool our island. It is inhabited by wildlife such as birds, lizards, toads and insects, including bees which are so essential to pollinate our crops and fruiting plants. Every precious acre of green space that is lost puts us closer to a tipping point where Bermuda’s wildlife simply can no longer survive — there won’t be enough land to sustain them. For example, we are already on the brink of losing our resident population of barn owls.

Bermuda’s environmental organisations have been arguing for a more sustainable approach to development for decades. Bermuda’s Delicate Balance was published by the Bermuda National Trust back in 1981. It is tragic that in 2022 we are still struggling against the mindset that the only answer for a better Bermuda is to build, build, build.

KAREN BORDER

Executive Director

Bermuda National Trust

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Published April 11, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated April 11, 2022 at 7:28 am)

Natural beauty being challenged by building mindset

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