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Opposition mounts to changes to SDO process

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Opposition Leader Cole Simons says the House of Assembly has shown the importance of debating special development orders like the one for Riddell's Bay, pictured. Now the government wants to take that power away, he said. (Photograph supplied)
Cole Simons, Opposition Leader (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The One Bermuda Alliance has joined environmental groups in opposition of proposed changes to planning legislation.

The amendments, tabled earlier this month by Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, would remove the need for Special Development Orders to be debated in the House of Assembly, although public consultation would become mandatory.

Cole Simons, the Opposition Leader, said the changes would reverse policies put forward by Mr Roban himself in 2011 to improve transparency.

Mr Simons said: “He made it very clear that processing all SDOs under the affirmative resolution would ensure increased transparency and allow the public to comment and openly debate such SDO’s.

“Now, the government is no longer interested in this level of transparency in when it comes to major capital developments which are of national interest.

“If the Minister has his way, these projects would be rubber stamped without consultation or debate in Parliament.”

Mr Simons added: “Who are the benefactors of these projects? What is driving this unexpected change?

“What have they promised and to whom, that requires less parliamentary scrutiny?”

He said that last year the House of Assembly debated an SDO for Riddells Bay and the process quickly moved forward with “thorough examination and scrutiny, robust debate, and cross-party approval”.

Mr Simons added: “During the Riddells Bay SDO’s parliamentary debate, Mr Roban underscored the fact that this special development order provides a framework that ensures absolute transparency through debate in the House, especially on matters of national interest.”

He also echoed concerns voiced by the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce that the Fairmont Southampton could be allowed to “morph from a tourist facility into a real estate agency” under the amended law.

Mr Simons added that the Government’s inconsistent approach on issues such as SDO’s and Covid-19 regulations would further erode public confidence.

He said: “The evidence of that taking place has been made apparent over the ensuing weeks and more recently with the act of civil disobedience by the Cannonier-Watson family.

“As Opposition Leader, I continue to sound the alarm because Bermuda demands less division and more respect and equity for all Bermudians.

“This country wants transparency, equity, and definitely more accountability.”

The Bermuda Audubon Society also said it strongly opposed the proposed changes to the SDO process.

A spokeswoman for the society said: “Special Development Orders exist to allow for developments that would not comply with the policies and guidelines of the current Bermuda Plan. The Bermuda Plan 2018 has only just been approved.

“It is a complex policy document that was developed with much public and stakeholder input with the aim ‘to effectively manage Bermuda's natural and built environment, resources and development and help build healthy and sustainable communities’.

“Any development that must circumvent these policies should be of critical importance to the national interest - that is the interest of all Bermuda and not only the economic interest or expedience of developers.”

Mr Roban has said the Development and Planning Amendment Act 2021 will set a higher level of oversight on special development orders.

“Right now, public consultation is discretionary,” Mr Roban said on Thursday. “This legislation is making it mandatory, as well as having a proper environmental analysis done. To me, it’s a higher threshold.”

Mr Roban said the island was in “a different economic environment” since parliamentary oversight of SDOs was brought into law in 2011.

“We appreciate the value of public consultation even more.

“International best practice is to afford consultation and there has been substantial case law in the courts which supports going in this particular direction.”

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Published July 14, 2021 at 7:54 am (Updated July 13, 2021 at 8:15 pm)

Opposition mounts to changes to SDO process

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