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Travesty of land use in Bermuda

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The controversial site at Shark Hole off Harrington Sound Road (Photograph supplied by the Bermuda Audubon Society)

With the new cliffside construction on Harrington Sound Road, we continue to witness the destruction of our precious shorelines and valuable undeveloped green spaces. Parliament passed the Tucker’s Point Resort Residential Special Development Order in 2011.

The SDO allowed for development of this property — and more — at “Res 2” standards, overriding the protective zonings that were in place. This particular lot is zoned Coastal Reserve, Water Resources Protection Area and Cave Protection Area.

The same applied to the nearby house at 27 Harrington Sound Road. Just above these houses, on Paynters Hill, the SDO allowed for the construction of new homes on land-zoned Nature Reserve. Nature Reserve!

The Bermuda Audubon Society strongly objected to the Planning Application, P0181-21, for this latest new house near Shark Hole. Objections were also submitted by the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, the Bermuda National Trust and members of the public, including former Government Conservation Officer David Wingate and former Senator and Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of the Environment Dr Walwyn Hughes. Nevertheless, the application was approved.

The approval did include conditions that would theoretically minimise the impact of the construction on the surrounding environment. That remains to be seen. The result will still be destruction of important natural habitat and another large and imposing structure on the shores of Harrington Sound.

House being built into a cliff in the Shark Hole area (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Is this the future that we want for Bermuda? Be prepared because there will be more. The St George’s Resort Act of 2018 allows Hotelco Bermuda Holding Ltd to lease and develop 122 acres of government-owned land in St George’s. In addition to the multistorey St Regis Hotel buildings, they have permission to construct “resort residences” of varying densities on 23 additional lots.

In the most recent Bermuda Plan, 18 acres of land with conservation zoning leased to Hotelco were changed to tourism. Tourism is one of our least protective zoning designations. We are still in the dark about the plans for development on the Fairmont Southampton site. The 2009 SDO allows for the development of at least 130 units at this location. What will come after that?

Janice Hetzel is the president of the Bermuda Audubon Society

Bermuda is an attractive tourist destination in large part because of our lush, natural beauty. Why would we ruin it with overdevelopment? Unfortunately, policymakers continue to be biased towards development at the expense of our fragile and unique environment. This is surprising given the concerted effort being made by the Government to address climate change and other pressing environmental issues.

As it stands, Parliament can override established planning policies with an Act or Order. The Development Applications Board and the Department of Planning are using the discretion afforded them by the Bermuda Plan to allow for development in areas of protective zoning, which they have the authority to refuse. In an appeal, the Minister of Home Affairs has complete discretion and can disregard the recommendations of the planning department, DAB and/or an appointed independent planning inspector. This was the case on Judkin Lane. Architects and landowners are aware of these biases, and many push the limits of what is allowed in their planning applications. The result is the piecemeal destruction of our protected open spaces. This needs to stop.

House being built into a cliff in the Shark Hole area (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

We need to ensure that moving forward a reasonable balance is achieved that truly recognises and respects the enormous value of the undeveloped spaces that remain. We ask that you speak up. Let your MPs and the policymakers in government know that you want better environmental controls on development. Insist that existing policies to protect the environment are appropriately implemented. Work with us to improve those policies and to strive for truly sustainable development.

If you are interested in learning more about these issues and working to create a better future for Bermuda, please contact us at info@audubon.bm.

Janice Hetzel is the president of the Bermuda Audubon Society

House being built into a cliff in the Shark Hole area (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published July 21, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated July 20, 2022 at 3:09 pm)

Travesty of land use in Bermuda

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