Audubon Society Opposes Amendments To Act

July 16, 2021

The Bermuda Audubon Society is asking MPs “to uphold our parliamentary democracy, rely on their good sense and commitment to a better Bermuda by voting against the proposed changes to the Planning Act as written.”

A spokesperson said, “The Bermuda Audubon Society opposes amendments to the Planning Act tabled on July 2nd in the House of Assembly. We believe that not enough thought has been applied to the details and consequences of the proposed amendments and we urge that they be withdrawn and reconsidered. Failing that, we urge our honorable members of Parliament to vote against the proposed changes.

“Of particular concern is the fact that Special Development Orders [SDO’s], which currently undergo parliamentary scrutiny, will no longer be required to go before the House for approval under the proposed legislation. Decisions made by the negative resolution procedure remove essential debate in the House and the effective checks and balances offered by our respected parliamentarians. This flies in the face of good governance within a transparent and accountable government.

“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. These decisions should be made in public view and with full consideration by the affirmative resolution procedure in Parliament.

“The Minister has suggested that mandatory public consultation heightens the scrutiny of an SDO beyond parliamentary examination, yet the consultation process provides only an opinion and has little, if any, weight on decisions of national importance. In addition, the amendments only require public consultation on “any environmental impact assessment” and not the development proper. Nor do the amendments require that an environmental impact assessment be done.

“Apparently, this will be part of the procedures that will be developed by the Director and published by the Minister at some later date. We believe that these procedures should be outlined as part of this Act.

“The proposed amendments allow for procedures to be developed for Development Orders and Emergency Development Orders. This is an excellent first step as no such procedures currently exist. However, the Act, as it is currently written, allows for both types of Development Order to come into place by negative resolution before any such procedures are enacted. This is premature and opens the door for outcomes that may not be in the best interest of the people of Bermuda.

“The Bermuda experience with the Covid 19 pandemic has demonstrated clearly that when an issue of national emergency or magnitude arises there are processes in place to fast-track matters to the top of the parliamentary agenda so that they can be expedited swiftly. Amendments to our sound planning legislation to allow for Emergency Development Orders are therefore not needed. Furthermore, the proposed Amendments allow for broad discretion as to what constitutes a national emergency as it applied to a natural disaster. It also allows for the as yet unknown emergency procedures to be followed for an extended period of time. We fear that this extended Ministerial power can potentially be abused and should be subject to more exacting oversight.

“In addition to negative resolutions on SDO’s and Emergency Development Orders, the amendments also include implementing a positive resolution on a new designation of Protected Conservation Areas. Such designations are to be made voluntarily by landowners and do not include property held by the Bermuda Government.

“The Bermuda Audubon Society and the Bermuda National Trust already hold land that is protected ‘in perpetuity’ status for the benefit of our people, our wildlife, and future generations. The conservation zoning of private land is clearly defined in the Bermuda Plan 2018 and processes are in place to ensure protection for the long term, provided planning rules are followed and ministerial discretions do not impede environmental protection of our special spaces. This appears to be an attempt to counter the potentially negative impacts of the proposed amendments with an amendment that appears to have environmental value, a value which we believe will be limited.

“The protection of the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources are essential to prosperity and to the sustainability of our economies, as well as the quality of life and health for present and future generations. Our Government’s focus should be on enforcement of existing national legislation, regulations, standards, and policies that provide for high levels of environmental protection.

“Through this statement the Bermuda Audubon Society wishes to implore our Premier and our Honorable members of Parliament to uphold our parliamentary democracy, rely on their good sense and commitment to a better Bermuda by voting against the proposed changes to the Planning Act as written.”

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  1. Joe Bloggs says:

    “This flies in the face of good governance within a transparent and accountable government.”

    And your point is?