Southlands park delay fears
Amendments to change Southlands into a park are set to be tabled in the upcoming session of Parliament, according to the Government.
While environmentalists have welcomed the long-sought change, they said that a lack of maintenance at the property over the last few years has led to it becoming overgrown with invasive species.
Asked for an update on the property, which was obtained by government in 2011 as part of a land swap agreement, a government spokeswoman said: “The Department of Parks considers Southlands a prime area for the development and management of parkland that will be a destination for local residents and tourists alike.
“Southlands has not yet been designated a national park, but the Ministry of the Environment can confirm that an amendment to the National Parks Act 2009 is due to be tabled during the upcoming parliamentary session.”
When pressed, the spokeswoman confirmed those amendments would make Southlands a park.
The next session of Parliament is set to begin on Friday.
Jonathan Starling, executive director at Greenrock, said the charity welcomes the move, but added: “I just hope that the damage that has been done through the delay in doing so, and maintaining the site, isn't too great.
“There is something to be said for ‘rewilding' a place, however there are locations at Southlands where the rewilding is being done by invasive species and damaging the very aspects of the site that make it so magical.
“I would love to see this place restored and made into a place of wonder for our people and the nearby communities.”
He later added: “We are cautiously optimistic about this area — and others — being formally made a national park. It will still need quite a bit of work to bring it back as a functional park, however, based on its current state.”
During a walk through the property with this newspaper, Mr Starling noted an abundance of Mexican pepper, Indian laurel and morning glory throughout the property, with some of the plants growing into the buildings themselves.
“I'm not a structural engineer, but I would be concerned that due to the lack of maintenance, some of them might not be structurally sound,” he said. “They might have to be demolished, which is unfortunate.
“These buildings could have been used for a conference centre or a visitors centre, which could have brought in money, so it's disappointing to see them in this state.
“It's hard to say how long it would take to get it into shape given the overgrowth — it might be making it look worse than it is. I imagine it would take a year or two of dedicated focus.”
He suggested that the Royal Bermuda Regiment could be positioned to assist in a cleanup effort, saying: “They are supposed to train for post-hurricane operations including cutting fallen trees. This would be a great place for them to practice those skills and remove invasive plants at the same time.”
Meanwhile Stuart Hayward, of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, said that last August Michael Dunkley, the Premier, said he would discuss the issue with the Minister for the Environment.
“We have had signals that the induction of Southlands was imminent, but surely it is understandable that our patience has been wearing thin,” he said.
“More importantly, Southlands is becoming daily more subjected and vulnerable to vandals and exploiters. Mr Dunkley and new environment minister Sylvan Richards can and should fix this. We understand that all the prep work has been done and saving Southlands can be completed with a single stroke.”
He said the announcement was “good news”, but given the history of the property he said BEST was tempering their enthusiasm with caution.
“At this stage, we welcome the news but we can only believe it once it actually happens,” he said. “We feel we have no choice but to scrutinise the fine print of the amendments before engaging in celebration.”
The Southlands estate had once been earmarked for a hotel development, but public outcry about the use of the “pristine” land for development led to a land swap agreement with the developers, opening the door for the Morgan's Point hotel project.
When the agreement was finalised in 2011, Government stated that it hoped to turn Southlands into a park, with Michael Scott, then Minister of Government Estates, calling the move a “very interesting, urgent priority”.