EDITORIAL: Is our permit system up to scratch?

A COURT case in today’s Tribune raises interesting questions about the permit process in this country.

The case – reported in Tribune Business today – revolves around a development in Staniel Cay. Justice Neil Braithwaite upheld an injunction barring the developer, Kevin Doyle, from continuing to expand a property. Mr Doyle described the property as a family resident, but had originally proposed it to be a “Hotel Thunderball”, named after the James Bond movie that filmed in the Exuma caves nearby.

Mr Doyle admitted that he originally planned a boutique hotel in legal papers, and residents remained concerned that the property was a boutique hotel in disguise, despite Mr Doyle saying he had never submitted hotel plans for approval “to the Ministry of Works nor the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection specifically”.

The issue has caused disquiet in the island community – with Mr Doyle complaining of “harassment” from neighbours opposed to his plans, and other residents convinced he was trying to build a mini-resort.

The injunction puts a stop on any further construction work while the case goes to the Supreme Court – a victory for the residents opposed to the project.

But it is the words of former Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira that are most interesting. He conducted a report on behalf of Mr Doyle’s opponents, and he was in office when Mr Doyle was granted his Certificate of Environment Clearance. He is now working to overturn a permit issued by the agency he oversaw.

Mr Ferreira cautioned that the permit system itself might not be up to the task, and that it created a “backdoor” for developers “to cloak their boutique hotels as single-family residences”.

Essentially, he seems to be suggesting that, regardless of this particular case, the system itself offers the possibility of a bait-and-switch where you get approval for one thing then build something else.

He said developers can “avoid public consultation and scrutiny, by improperly describing the nature of their projects as residential – rather than commercial – when applying for a Certificate of Environmental Clearance”.

Should that be the case, it is a loophole that could see developments in areas they are not appropriate for, with the accompanying knock-on effects for the surrounding environment and nearby residents.

As Mr Ferreira said: “This sets a dangerous precedent likely to attract more developers of the same kind who seek to evade and avoid the law. More importantly, it undermines the very purpose for which the law was enacted; to regulate development.”

We have already seen recent instances of residents challenging nearby developments – such as the swimming pig attractions in Adelaide Village, one of which saw its application to develop a bar and grill rejected by the Town Planning Committee.

The rules need to be there to ensure appropriate development for an area is conducted – or else we might as well have no rules at all.

It will be interesting to see the Supreme Court’s ruling in this particular matter – but this is a broader issue to resolve if indeed there is a possibility of enabling a developer to say one thing and do another.

Although the approval in this case happened under his watch, Mr Ferreira is right to speak up – this is a bigger issue, and one that needs to be sorted out.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment