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Minister blindsided by plans for Montpelier renovations

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Survey waived: this file picture from 2021 shows the Montpelier residence sitting idle and in need of repairs (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A government minister has criticised civil servants within his department for breaching protocols after they allegedly pushed forward a planning application without his knowledge, consent, or approval.

Officers for the Ministry of Public Works prepared an application to renovate Montpelier — a government-owned property and the former official residence of the Deputy Governor — at least three months ago, despite previous public proclamations from Public Works minister Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch that the project was not a priority.

When alerted by this newspaper last week that an application for final approval had been submitted by his ministry’s staff, Colonel Burch said that he had been blindsided by the development and would withhold funding to ensure that it would not go ahead.

He added that his ministry’s estates department had failed to consult him and his permanent secretary prior to submitting the application.

Blindsided: Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, was unaware that officers within his ministry had submitted a planning application to upgrade a government-owned property (File photograph)

He said: “The first I and the permanent secretary knew about a planning application being made was when The Royal Gazette asked the question.

“The estates department are responsible for such matters, but normal practice would dictate that the permanent secretary and I be informed of the work that they are doing.”

In its application to the Department of Planning, the Ministry of Public Works sought to carry out internal renovations to the property — which has been abandoned and left derelict for the last five years — and also upgrade outside facilities to include a swimming pool and garage.

Architectural firm Entasis Architecture drafted drawings of the proposal as early as March 2022 — apparently without Colonel Burch’s knowledge.

Ministry of Public Works documents revealed that government officials ordered Entasis to submit a planning application for the Devonshire property in April this year.

In a letter to the planning department dated April 27, Dalton Burgess, a project manager for the Ministry of Public Works and acting senior estate surveyor, wrote: “To whom it may concern, please be advised that we have authorised Entasis Architecture to sign for and submit the above application [Montpelier renovations at 15, Middle Road, Devonshire] on our behalf.”

Further documents suggest that civil servants were keen for the project to move forward.

In a June 2 e-mail to Michael Emery, the director of Entasis, Paul McDonald, a senior officer within the Department of Planning, wrote: “I can confirm that the requirement for a survey can be waived in this case.”

July 12 planning application

Ministry of Public Works

15 Middle Road

Devonshire BM DV02

Proposed Internal Renovations and Additions to Existing Cottage, New Swimming Pool, Driveway and Garage. (Listed Building)

(Final Approval)

Colonel Burch, a former commanding officer of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, has now fired a warning shot across the bows of civil servants attempting to bypass his authority.

He said: “With the application for Montpelier having just been brought to my attention, I have now requested the list of any and all other planning submissions and I can assure you that none of these will proceed without my full review and consent.

“At this juncture, I can confirm that work on this [Montpelier] property will not commence at any time in the near future and that no funds have been budgeted or allocated for the same.

“I, like the rest of the country would agree, our money, the taxpayers’ money, would be far better utilised on more pressing and critical matters like road paving, which is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, at present.

“As the Minister for Public Works, it is my priority and my commitment to facilitate the restoring and repairing of the island’s critical infrastructure, such as bridges and roads.”

Montpelier, a Grade III-listed structure, was built in the late 18th century and later housed senior officers from the British military.

It was purchased by the government in the 1950s and adopted as the official home of the Colonial Secretary — a position which later became the Deputy Governor.

But the property has been left empty since 2018. Its current state of disrepair has prompted campaigners to call on the Government to either renovate the building or sell it.

In an August 2021 Royal Gazette article, a spokesperson for the Bermuda National Trust said: “Montpelier today is in a sorry state due entirely to wilful neglect — so sad for a once-treasured family home.

“One wonders why, if the Bermuda Government no longer has a use for the house, it is not sold to someone who would restore and appreciate it.”

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Published July 17, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated July 17, 2023 at 7:42 am)

Minister blindsided by plans for Montpelier renovations

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