When more than 2,000 people representing the diversity of modern Bermuda come together to demonstrate their concern about a major issue, we all need to step back and reflect on its meaning. This was made clear Sunday afternoon in Tucker's Town. Once the domain of proud black families, forcibly removed in the name of hotel development; now the gated community of the super-rich, this enclave remains contested terrain. Far from being a politically contrived gesture, Sunday's event revealed the extent of national concern about the environmental impact of the proposed development, the racial implications and the price of hotel development.
I would like to reflect on three aspects of this contentious issue: (1) the purpose of zoning laws; (2) the need for hotel development; and (3) Government's role in business promotion.
Bermuda has a land zoning map which is the product of many years of analysis, development and input. There was an extensive public consultation process, with a panel established to hear all appeals. When this was passed by the legislature, we had a blueprint for future land use for the next decade. Any attempt to diverge from this plan, particularly when it involves our precious nature reserves, protected land and fragile eco-systems, should involve the same extensive consultation process that created the Bermuda plan.
And I will propose two further steps:
(1) pass the appropriate and strong legislation to identify the areas of protected open space; and then
(2) given that there may be an overriding national interest in developing such land in the future, require that this can only be undertaken by a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Assembly.
We all accept that hotel development is vital for the resuscitation of tourism. Having the Rosewood brand is precisely the image we should want to convey as we rebuild and reposition our tainted product; and we should be careful they are not dissuaded from their Bermuda commitment. If their assessment is that they need additional hotel rooms to make the hotel viable I am inclined to defer to that assessment.
From all that has been publicised, nowhere is there any indication that additional homes are required to make the hotel viable; these are required, we are told, to ensure the financial viability of the company that currently owns and manages Tucker's Point. From a public interest and public policy perspective, we need to draw a line of demarcation between what Tucker's Point Hotel requires to be viable as a hotel and the needs of its current owners.
Good governments are friends of business, big and small. They work in tandem with the business community to ensure prosperity, quality jobs and economic stability.
Over the past five years, governments around the world have stepped in to help financial institutions debilitated by bad decisions motivated solely by unrestrained greed. My view is that those decisions by governments then were unwise and I hold to the view that it is unwise to reward an insatiable desire for “profit maximisation” with further government concessions, particularly when it comes at a high price to the country.
The Tucker's Point developers earned significant revenues off their fractional sales (starting at $295,000) and villa sales (starting at $3.2 million); if their business model was flawed or management challenged, it cannot be the responsibility of government to provide redress. Governments must be catalysts for the development of business, not their agents.
Next week the Senate will debate the Tucker's Point SDO. As the upper tier of our bicameral legislature the Senate has the responsibility to provide a second, sober look at matters discussed in the lower house. Our Senators have the power to decide not simply the pace of any proposed change but it can also help influence and shape the outcome.