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Minister reports speedier planning process

The Department of Planning continues to shorten the development application process, Environment Minister

Marc Bean said.

The average time taken to process an application fell from 13.6 weeks in 2010/11 to around 12.3 weeks in 2011/12.

“This data indicates a continuing improving trend in the processing of planning applications as average processing time has improved annually over the last two years,” Mr Bean told the House of Assembly. “In addition, the percentage of applications processed within an eight and 12-week period has shown steady improvement.”

Belco’s North Station, off St John’s Road, and the Park Hyatt proposal were large projects processed in only nine weeks, he added.

“The department has responded positively to the demands for improved services and this has been exemplified by improved processing times for applications across the spectrum,” Mr Bean said.

“The department will continue to meet these challenges head-on with a view to achieving greater efficiency and meeting the expectations of the public for enhanced services.”

He added that the department is looking at ways to add teeth to enforcing planning issues, making sure those that cause the most environmental harm are investigated first. It is also working to secure prosecutions against non-compliance, he said.

Government continues to work with the Sargasso Sea Alliance to create a reserve in Bermuda’s Economic Exclusive Zone, while simultaneously looking at an initiative to create a shoreline facility for local commercial fishermen, Mr Bean said.

And the Telecommunications Department is moving forward with regulatory reform for that industry and also plans to take advantage of Bermuda’s satellite orbital slot.

Shadow Estates Minister

Cole Simons applauded the improvements to the planning process, noting that the number of complaints he has heard from those in the industry has dropped significantly.

However, he expressed some concern that in an effort to streamline the process the Development Applications Board could be left out of the loop with a larger number of applications heard by the less-independent Development Applications Committee.

“You cannot have everything managed by the department because that’s when the issue of controls start to fall down,” Mr Simons said.

He also expressed concern about the reduction in funds dedicated by the Ministry to buying open space.

“In 2011/12, $250,000 was allotted to keep land free of development,” Mr Simons said. “That amount was later reduced to $10,000. Quite frankly, I want to know what piece of open space you can buy for $10,000.

“This year $50,000 was allocated, but what piece of open space can you buy in this Country for $50,000?”

Mr Simons said the One Bermuda Alliance had held hands with Government to ensure it could push through legislation reforming the telecommunications industry.

He said Government now has a role to protect the interests of players within that field. He added fees need to be kept at a competitive rate, saying foreign investors could give the industry a boost.

Mr Simons and OBA MP

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin spoke of the overabundance of empty houses on the Island, with the latter recommending a stress test due to the cyclical nature of the housing market.

Charlie Swan, who was elected as a United Bermuda Party MP, asked what progress Government is making towards its energy-saving targets.

Kim Swan, also elected under the UBP banner, applauded the Ministry for keeping its spending down.

Wrapping up the debate, Mr Bean pointed to the balancing act his Ministry is tasked with: on the one hand people are urging him to avoid overdevelopment, and on the other hand they want him to expedite the planning process.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin argued that speeding up planning decisions doesn’t necessarily equate to more development, because sometimes proposals will be rejected.

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Published March 21, 2012 at 9:54 am (Updated March 21, 2012 at 9:53 am)

Minister reports speedier planning process

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