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Negotiating a compromise over Southlands

The coveted woodlands area can be seen just to the west of Bermudiana Beach Resort (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Dear Sir,

The Bermuda National Trust is disappointed but not surprised that an appeal has been submitted against the Development Applications Board’s decision to deny the application for an events lawn and car park on a woodland area of Southlands Park, just west of the Bermudiana Beach Resort. The appeal was submitted by the Bermuda Housing Corporation, which owns the resort — formerly the Grand Atlantic development — via its agent, Brunel Ltd.

The proposal for the events lawn and public parking was previously rejected by the National Parks Commission more than once and has been opposed by the Bermuda National Trust, the Bermuda Audubon Society and others.

The Government’s long-running battle to push through this inappropriate development on public parkland highlights a worrying trend towards “putting the cart before the horse”, and finding ways around the legal processes and advisory bodies that were put in place to ensure decisions are made in the best public interest.

In this instance, according to the letter of appeal, the Bermudiana Management Company already has “an agreement to develop the events and public car park at the subject site as a public-private partnership initiative”. How is it possible to have such an agreement without planning permission having been granted first?

We have been told that 100 parking spots will be needed for the park and, therefore, it is necessary to sacrifice coastal woodland to provide some of that parking space, but no evidence has been provided to justify that number of spaces. We have been told that the brownfield site west of the beach entrance will not provide adequate parking because a sizeable portion of that area is being set aside for a restaurant and beach concession amenities. As many Bermudians know, Southlands beach is one of the most dangerous in Bermuda owing to a hazardous combination of underwater rocks, frequent high surf and rip currents. For those reasons, it was never one of the beaches identified by the National Parks Commission for enhanced public amenities and concessions. Why are such proposals being pushed forward now?

The parks commission that is mandated to review and advise on all developments and plans for our national parks has been disbanded since December 2022. The question of how much car parking is required for Southlands Park and where that should be sited has to be part of a comprehensive management plan for the park. In the absence of such a plan, how can sensible, long-term decisions be made? In the absence of the National Parks Commission, a plan cannot be approved.

Despite these concerns, and extreme reluctance to see any part of a national park given up for development, the BNT has put forward a compromise proposal to home affairs minister Walter Roban with respect to the Bermudiana Beach Resort events lawn application. It would allow for the events lawn to be created adjacent to the Bermudiana Beach Resort, but not the public car park for Southlands Park. That should be located on the brownfield site to the west of the beach entrance.

The appeal letter seeking permission for development states: “The proposed events lawn is an integral component of the hotel use and pivotal to its success as a full-service hotel venue. BNT has proposed this compromise in the spirit of supporting Bermuda tourism and to give this publicly owned resort the highest possibility of success. In exchange for the sacrifice of this portion of the park to be leased for the private use of the resort, it should be a condition that the events lawn will be made available for members of the public to rent for events when not in use by the resort.”

With regard to the parking lot, the appeal letter states that: “The primary use of the parking is for public parking when visiting Southlands Park and its beach. Primary parking for the resort’s events lawn would be on the Bermudiana Beach Resort’s property. The public car park could be used for overflow car parking for events if needed.”

It is unnecessary for the Southlands public parking to be located next to the events lawn, and it makes no sense at all to build it on the one area of the park that has a beautiful, thriving native and endemic woodland. The Development Applications Board and the Government Conservation Officer both commented on the high environmental value of this section of coastal woodland. Its destruction to create a parking lot would go against all good principles of park management. The brownfield site west of the beach entrance provides close access to the main park and is only a short walk to the events lawn, for those occasions when it is used for overflow parking.

This is a solution that would ensure the Bermudiana Beach Resort gets the events lawn that is deemed essential to its success, Southlands Park gets its parking area, and two thirds of the woodland that would have been bulldozed under the original proposal would be saved. The BNT trusts that when reviewing the appeal, Mr Roban will seriously consider this proposal as a sensible compromise.

Moving forward, the Bermuda National Trust would like to see all development at Southlands put on hold until there is a well-considered management plan that has the support of a reconstituted National Parks Commission.


Executive director

Bermuda National Trust

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Published May 17, 2023 at 7:58 am (Updated May 17, 2023 at 7:06 am)

Negotiating a compromise over Southlands

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