Bermuda's Ombudsman, Arlene Brock, recently published an 89 page report about Special Development Orders (SDOs) entitled "Today's Choices, Tomorrow's Costs." In it, she praises the Bermuda Government for making SDOs the subject of approval by the Legislature rather than just an individual Minister as before. However, she also derides the Government for not requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be carried out before a decision was made in connection with development at Tucker's Point. In response, the Minister of the Environment states the conditions attached the grant of planning permission are "...sufficient to protect the environment and mitigate any adverse impact."
Fair disclosure: I have not read all 89 pages of this report. I have read the Executive Summary and the recommendations. However, my comments are based mainly on the overall process, rather than the details of this report and what was or was not done.
It is fair to claim that Bermuda has a mature planning system. Regulations and law guiding development have been in place, in one form or another, since the forties. Although Bermuda's Development and Planning Act 1974 is based on the UK's Town and Country Planning Act 1972, and its provisions relating to development (as opposed to subdivision) remain largely unaltered since that time - unlike its UK cousin - the development plans, which guide individual projects, are not relics from the seventies.
It should be no great surprise to any developer investigating development opportunities on the island that reports such as EIAs are expected. Nor should it be a surprise to the civil service technical officers that the developers want decisions made with all due haste. The issue becomes how to combine and manage the expectations associated with both due diligence and speed.
This is entirely within the realm of possibility. Bermuda is not unique in having a system whereby development proposals in the national interest can be 'lifted' out of the normal planning system and dealt with on a fast-track basis that, nonetheless, does not leave unaddressed environmental concerns.
The first step involves common sense which dictates that, if an EIA is required, it should be undertaken early in the planning process when an application is made for planning permission in principle. An EIA can usually alert a developer to possible challenges associated with a proposed development and alert technical officers to issues that may require considered and cooperative input to resolve. The Ombudsman's report has a number of suggestions but not one directly related to timing. In my opinion, early is far more helpful than late.
There are many other steps involved in addressing due diligence and speed - not least of which is consistency across the spectrum of 'in the public interest' development proposals - but having a starting point that is logical strikes me as a necessary correction to be made to the system.