By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government was yesterday urged not to reward two decades of alleged law-breaking by approving Peter Nygard’s new development applications, a well-known QC suggesting he had seized land worth $35 million without permission.
Fred Smith, the Callender’s & Co partner, said Nygard Cay’s near-doubling in size by almost three acres without the necessary permits/approvals had given its Canadian fashion mogul owner “an extremely valuable asset” at the Bahamian people’s expense.
While praising the Government for having “learnt its lesson” and subjected Mr Nygard’s applications to a 21-day public consultation,he was now checking this followed the proper legal procedures and process in planning laws.
Mr Smith, a director of the Save the Bays organisation, confirmed it and other environmental activists would now be assessing Mr Nygard’s applications, while expressing hope that “a new day of transparency has dawned” for the Bahamas’ development/planning process.
He suggested that Nygard Cay, and similar cases, provided evidence that showed “Bahamians will no longer tolerate secret deals or the wholesale give away of Crown Land for pennies”.
Mr Nygard’s permit applications for his Lyford Cay home involve a mixture of new buildings and the reconstruction of properties damaged during a 2009 fire. The notice published by the Government also referred to another application to lease Crown Land - likely the very same land already reclaimed from the sea.
Tribune Business exclusively revealed last week the contents of a government-commissioned study, which found that much of the expansion and construction work undertaken at Nygard Cay lacked the necessary government approvals and permits.
Buildings on the property also failed to meet “normal coastline construction standards”, while Town Planning’s ‘Nygard file’ showed that government officials had known of his law breaches for 15-20 years - and recommended prosecuting the Canadian fashion mogul as far back as 2000 - but failed to do anything about it.
Given this background, Mr Smith urged the Christie administration to avoid ‘rewarding’ Mr Nygard for his previous planning violations and Crown Land “trespass” by simply acquiescing to his permit applications.
“Save the Bays wishes the Government and Mr Nygard to respect the rule of law, and we do not want someone that by the Government’s own report has been breaking the law for decades to be rewarded,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.
Nygard Cay has expanded from its initial 3.25 acres, when My Nygard bought it in the mid-1980s, to 6.1 acres today - largely via the reclamation of seabed Crown Land. The Government-authored report made clear this was done without the necessary permits.
“Based on comparable beachfront prices at Lyford Cay, and the fact it [Nygard Cay] is almost an island in and of itself, inaccessible to others and exclusive, I would venture to say the three acres on the beach are worth at least $35 million,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.
“That it cannot be accessed by anyone else is an extremely valuable asset, and Mr Nygard obviously sees it as such.”
While backing the Government’s tentative moves to make planning/development “a more transparent, accountable and participatory process”, Mr Smith added that it seemed “hopelessly confused” over the public consultation it has announced for Nygard Cay.
“It’s wonderful to see that the Government has finally taken notice of the public cry for consultation, and we are now certainly prepared to look at the applications,” he added.
“We want to ensure the law is being followed in accordance with the legislation, and failure to consult has resulted in the scourge of unregulated and secret development deals which we say are bad for the Bahamas.
“We are very concerned to ensure that not only does the process of public consultation occur, but that it occurs properly and that the public are given adequate time to engage in informed and proper consultation.”
Mr Smith said what had happened at Nygard Cay and other controversial development projects was “just a drop in the bucket” compared to the many islands and marine habitats that had been damage by the Government’s “failure to adhere to the laws and hold developers accountable”.
Calling on Prime Minister Perry Christie, as minister for Crown Lands, to safeguard this for future Bahamian generations, the well-known QC said he hoped the Nygard Cay consultation was a precursor of the Government’s future intentions.
“It is fantastic that the Government now seems to understand that Bahamians will no longer tolerate secret deals or the wholesale giveaway of Crown Land for pennies,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.
“A new day of transparency has dawned in the Bahamas on development, and the sooner developers - both Bahamian and foreign - appreciate this, the better.
“Embarking on a public consultation process is a great start, but one that must be concluded properly and with all cards on the table.”