Stick it in your tunnel

The Southlands saga continues, with news breaking late last week that Government is looking to shift the project to Morgan's Point.

I think most people would welcome the mega-development not blighting South Shore as the Government has authorised by ramming down the public's throat an SDO voiding all zoning laws, but the sudden shift raises a lot of questions, which Denis Pitcher covers well in his post from a couple of days ago.

The obvious implication here is that the results of the heavy pre-election canvassing that have been going on across the island recently, but also in the key battle grounds in Warwick, revealed that the PLP are in danger of losing Warwick seats because of the blatant disregard they had for the public interest over this project.

The Ministers - including she of the Environment - always acted as the agents for the developers, abdicating their responsibility to represent the public.

As one person said to me the other day, the general sentiment towards the PLP MPs in the Warwick constituencies has been 'stick it in your tunnel'....hence, the sudden change of heart.

The release of the potential Morgan's Point move to the press has been carefully orchestrated as an effort by PLP Warwick MPs (excluding the Premier presumably), to respond to the concerns of their constituents (after ignoring them for the better part of a year). Isn't it interesting what the prospects of an election can do?

So, in an effort to salvage some votes, we're now seeing the Government trying to do some sort of a swap with Southlands and Morgan's point.

It's not a bad concept, except Government holds no cards here now after issuing the SDO. The developers could start digging the Southlands tunnel tomorrow presumably to leverage this up and extract more concessions form the people of Bermuda in exchange for moving to Morgan's Point.

With an SDO in hand and a Government with a political problem, they're rubbing their hands together with delight I'm sure.

Government so desperately wants to save face over this now and salvage something (in Warwick in particular) so that the Premier can swoop in and claim credit for the great compromise, listening to the community, respecting sustainable development etc. that they'll probably say yes to an unattractive deal.

I'm pretty convinced it will get done, because the PLP website is linking to 3 press stories on the topic.

But the problems here are massive:

I can't see the Southlands/Jumeirah developers paying to clean up the pollution, so the taxpayers will foot that one.

Some sort of legal indemnity will have to be worked out so the developers/owners can't be sued for any health problems that may arise - back on the taxpayers absent some very well crafted legislation (which this Government isn't known for).

By needing to get this done to solve a political problem the PLP Goverment are likely to accept a deal that isn't as attractive for the people of Bermuda as it could have been if Morgan's Point was open to a competitive bidding process and Southlands hadn't been rezoned.

Instead, we now have Southlands being given preferred access (after the PLP chased away a development at Morgan's Point immediately after taking over in 1998).

This is a mess. Moving the project away from Warwick is the optimal solution, but we'll have to wait to see just what is put on the table as an alternative, because the Government aren't holding the cards. They have a massive political problem they need to solve, and see Morgan's Point as the answer.

That's not a good combination for the people of Bermuda.

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