Point of order, Sir John
“If you really think the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money”— Guy McPherson, PhD
Let us be clear, the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce and other groups concerned about what is being proposed for the Fairmont Southampton want to see this iconic hotel operational again and so fully support the reopening of the hotel and, if necessary, additional but reasonable development that is complementary to the island’s beauty and cultural heritage.
In a May 2022 interview, Sir John Swan stated that the concessions given to Gencom in relation to the Fairmont Southampton were “a hell of a gift on behalf of the Bermuda people,” who, he continued, “won’t see that money for a long time”.
Now, in a Royal Gazette article on April 19, 2023, Sir John suggests that by objecting to the Fairmont Southampton special development order, we are “standing in the way of progress”. We would be surprised to find anyone in favour of the scale and massing of Gencom’s proposal, and if concreting tracts of undeveloped green space and building six-storey buildings on top of those scenic hilltops — which would be visible for miles around — are actually signs of “progress”, then we are proud to oppose something that will forever blot that beautiful landscape.
Overall, 34 acres of undeveloped land, including open, woodland and recreational space, will be covered in buildings that are two storeys and higher. Developments such as these threaten Bermuda’s appeal to tourists. People come to Bermuda to see our natural beauty, not concrete buildings. And who would want to stay in the hotel while the residential units are being constructed over a period of 20 years?
Sir John further alludes to the “employment opportunities for the residential units”, but we are not convinced this proposed development would actually provide a meaningful level of additional jobs. It has been well documented that existing hotels and restaurants are struggling to find employees — Bermudian and otherwise — and I think it stands to reason that residential condominium properties require considerably fewer staff than a hotel.
Look at what’s happening in the Cayman Islands. Even their premier, G. Wayne Panton, has expressed concerns about the impact that overdevelopment has had on their islands, particularly along the famous Seven Mile Beach.
Questions there have been raised also about whether or not such development benefits most Caymanians. Speaking to The Royal Gazette in February 2020, Roy Bodden, author, historian, former labour minister and retired president of the University College of the Cayman Islands, said that Caymanians were concerned about development “spinning out of control” and asked the question, “for whom are we developing?”
He continued: “Developers are building for the high-end and not the middle-income people. So many people are being left behind and this will end in social upheaval.”
Sir John Swan wants us to embrace progress. When he and others in positions of power can look every child in Bermuda in the eye and tell them, in all honesty, that they did everything they could to save their island from the ravages of overdevelopment, then that will be sustainable progress.
We encourage anyone who agrees that development should be done in a sustainable, intelligent way that respects balance and preserves Bermuda’s character to join us as we make our views known at the Cabinet Building at 10.30am on Friday. More details will be made public as soon as all permissions have been secured.
• Kim Smith is the executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce
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