Environmentalists express cautious hope after Tucker’s Point SDO stalls
Environmentalists have urged Government to ensure it preserves the integrity of protected natural areas at Tucker's Point if it amends the stalled Special Development Order (SDO) and brings it back to Parliament.
Bermuda National Trust (BNT) and Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce (BEST) laid out their hopes for any revised expansion plan for the five-star resort.
BNT executive director Jennifer Gray told
The Royal Gazette: “The Bermuda National Trust is relieved that the Special Development Order (SDO) for Tucker's Point was deferred on Friday night in the Senate and is glad that, temporarily at least, the hills of Castle Harbour are safe.
“We cautiously wait to see what form any amendments to the SDO may take, should there be any, but are encouraged that the SDO is to be revisited and hope that any future proposals will preserve the integrity of the protected natural areas and prevent the encroachment of development into them.”
She added: “The current SDO, as it now stands, lays the ground work for saturated development and the fragmentation of practically all of the remaining natural habitats, beautiful vistas and woodland in and around the Castle Harbour area, all of which make their own vital and priceless contribution to Bermuda's environmental, economic and social health.
“The hills of Castle Harbour comprise one of the few places left where diverse habitats of major and critical significance remain in Bermuda.”
Stuart Hayward, from BEST, said any amended order should ensure there could be no rezoning of protected land. “That would be highly important,” he said.
“We would prefer to see [development at] other places where the Bermuda public was not being asked to sacrifice its heritage of protected lands.
“There could be a trade-off. An idea has been mooted to trade protected land for some of the Government quarry and enable them [the developers] to build on that.”
He said any revised plan should ensure development on “less sensitive” land or building more densely on areas of Tucker's Point not protected in law.
The controversial SDO, approved by the House in Assembly in February, was due to be voted on by senators on Friday evening.
But the debate was halted after nearly five hours, when five senators appeared in favour and five against, with Senate President Carol Ann Bassett likely to have the deciding ballot.
Junior Environment Minister David Burt interrupted proceedings to “rise and report progress”, delaying any vote on the SDO, though leaving it on the order paper.
The order would have removed zoning restrictions on the land and allowed failing Tucker's Point to apply for permission to build 78 private homes and 70 hotel rooms at the Hamilton Parish property.
Resort president Ed Trippe insists the expansion is needed to ensure the success of Tucker's Point, which was losing more than $1 million a month from the start of 2009 through to the end of August last year, and to boost tourism.
If the SDO eventually passes, the Rosewood Hotels group will take over management of the hotel.
Mr Trippe could not be reached for comment and a Tucker's Point spokeswoman was unable to provide information on whether a revised plan would be drawn up and, if so, on a likely timescale.
“Tucker's Point is in communications with Government, Rosewood and its senior lenders in an effort to find an acceptable way forward,” she said.
Tucker's Point secured more than $142 million in loans in 2007, including $111.25 million from HSBC Bermuda.
The loans became due at the end of last year, when they were extended.
HSBC would not comment on how long it was prepared to delay repayment of its loan.
A spokeswoman said: “HSBC takes the issue of customer confidentiality very seriously and as such is not able to discuss any matters in respect of customers.”
Premier Paula Cox said at the weekend that the concerns of SDO objectors had been heard.
“Because this is the Government of the people, lead Ministers have reached out to the key commercial stakeholders and noted there is an opportunity to have a rethink on some aspects,” she said.
Opposition Leader Kim Swan said last night: “Obviously, we are interested in what the Government now plans to do with this matter, as it remains on the order paper and can still be taken up without amendment on any sitting.
“For the record, we in the United Bermuda Party were consistent in our objections both in the House and in the Senate and we will continue to keep our eye on this matter.”
Environment Minister Walter Roban did not respond to a request for comment.