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Call for infrastructure blueprint

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A blueprint for the funding of major projects to boost job numbers and the economy should be a priority, an economist claimed yesterday.

Robert Stubbs said a “chronic weakness” in how major work was funded was a key reason for stunted growth in the Bermudian job market.

Mr Stubbs is a cofounder of Seed Bermuda, a new organisation which plans to ask the public to help come up with a plan for how the island could look in the decades ahead.

He added that a comprehensive development plan to shape short-term infrastructure goals was needed.

He said: “Chronic weakness in Bermuda's fixed-investment spending for a full generation now is a major contributing factor to our weak economy and lack of job growth.

“One of Seed Bermuda's primary objectives is stimulating greater fixed-investment spending by both the public and private sectors.

“In addition to advocating for an economic stimulus plan and identifying specific new investment opportunities we view as commercially viable for Bermuda, in the coming months Seed will be engaging the public in helping us produce a master plan or Vision Bermuda 2050 plan.”

Mr Stubbs said: “Such plans in many ways are the quickest but also the most important to produce.

“They identify principles and practices we would like to embrace in determining long-term sustainable urban development and public transportation goals for Bermuda, which could then be used to inform and prioritise shorter-term infrastructure planning.

“Such planning offers the island a unique opportunity to overcome difficulties across a range of challenges we've created for ourselves.”

Mr Stubbs added that Seed — social, economic, environmental development — aimed to “undertake, disseminate and debate” non-partisan research.

He highlighted that Bermuda's fixed-investment spending as a percentage of gross domestic product over the past three years had been, on average, lower than Caribbean countries such as the Cayman Islands and Jamaica over the past three years.

Mr Stubbs said the Bahamas was the only country in the region to have weaker government capital spending than Bermuda.

But he added that money ploughed into fixed investment from the private sector in the Bahamas “more than makes up for it”.

Mr Stubbs explained: “Generally speaking, fixed investment covers expenditure on items which are used repeatedly by households, businesses and governments in the production of goods and services for themselves or others throughout the year.”

He said that included construction of homes, offices, hotels and schools, new transport, heavy machinery such as cranes and generators, as well as computers.

Mr Stubbs added that fixed investment could also include software, mobile phones and even intellectual property such as films, television programmes, music and books.

He said: “All infrastructure spending by government is classified as fixed investment and is recorded under capital expenditures in the Government's budget.

“In addition to infrastructure spending, government capital expenditures includes spending on heavy machinery and transportation equipment such as buses and ferries.”

The 2019-20 Budget showed that capital spending was $56.6 million in 2017-18, with a revised estimate of $61.6 million in 2018-19. It is forecast to be $64.7 million this year.

Construction industry sources backed the view of Mr Stubbs that a plan for upgrades and repairs across the island was needed.

One construction insider said: “As far as roads, bridges and sewage works go, I don't know; nobody knows.

“Government would probably have to have a Green Paper, then a White Paper — they would have to initiate a survey first and then come up with a plan.”

Another added: “There's no island-wide survey of what is in need of repair, that we are aware of.”

Alan Burland, the president of BCM McAlpine, said Bermuda should always think about ways to improve what it had to offer. He added: “As we strive to upgrade such things as infrastructure, we should always try to add value, with an eye towards long-term quality and durability.”

Mr Burland said that areas of infrastructure the country “could and should address” included energy-efficient, affordable homes and retirement housing.

Mr Burland added: “If these are in urban areas where people can live, work and play, the stress on the environment is less, with less need to use the roads every day.”

He said that pollution-reduction efforts could include increased use of urban sewage treatment plants and improvements to storm water basins such as the Pembroke basin.

Mr Burland added: “We applaud the Regulatory Authority for producing the recent Integrated Resource Plan, which projects a far greater use of renewable energy.

“Add to this an increase in use of electric vehicles, smart energy-efficient appliances and energy storage or management to further improve value and help the environment.”

Mr Burland said that moving Hamilton docks would allow redevelopment of the waterfront area to include “a mix of residential, office, retail, marina, recreation and parkland uses”.

He added: “Perhaps, with appropriate planning and community consultation, we could consider allowing the city to grow to the north.”

Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, said in his Budget statement in February that the most significant items of capital development expenditure were upgrades to the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute at $4.5 million, school maintenance at $3 million and road works scheduled to cost $1.5 million.

He added: “While most of the planned investment is related to construction projects, there is capital acquisition provision of $20.6 million for IT developments across government, and new public buses and other vehicles to support public service delivery.”

Island upgrade: an artist's impression of what Longbird Bridge at St George's could look like (Photograph submitted)
Robert Stubbs (File photograph)

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Published August 21, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated August 21, 2019 at 8:39 am)

Call for infrastructure blueprint

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