A digger is loaded on to a truck on ground where Island Construction had applied for permission to build new warehouses. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
A digger is loaded on to a truck on ground where Island Construction had applied for permission to build new warehouses. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 23: The ground at the centre of a row over planning permission is already in use by Health Minister Zane DeSilva’s Island Construction.

The firm want to build three warehouses on the firm’s existing site on Middle Road, Devonshire, which is next to Devonshire Marsh.

But the gravel-covered ground is already in use for truck parking and is screened from the marsh by trees.

Mr DeSilva said: “Stuart Hayward of the Bermuda Sustainability Task Force said we were encroaching on marshland — there would be no encroaching on the marsh.

“For those who say we’re operating illegally or on Devonshire Marsh, our boundaries were set a long time ago.”

Mr DeSilva and company executive vice-president Dave Woodward added that environmentalist David Wingate had visited the site and advised them on how to protect the marsh.

They added that Mr Wingate backed the firm remaining on their present site, rather than risking taking up valuable land elsewhere for industrial purposes. The Sun was unable to reach Mr Wingate for comment yesterday.

Mr DeSilva said: “I support environmentalists and what they do. This company has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to different environmental projects over the years.

“What I disagree with is when Stuart Hayward writes things like ‘this is an assault on the rule of law, an assault on democracy’.

“That’s what I object to — when you start taking it to that level, it’s personalizing it or at least makes you think it’s personalizing it.”

The row started after Environment Minister Walter Roban gave in-principle consent to the firm’s proposal the day before he took up a new role as Public Works Minister. The proposals had been recommended for rejection by the Development Applications Board and an independent Inspector.

Mr Roban later resigned from his post – but said he had done nothing wrong and was resigning to protect the Government from further attacks.

Mr DeSilva said Island Construction had occupied the site for around 50 years – and previous applications to develop office and industrial space had been approved on appeal.

He pointed out that numerous hotel developments had also been granted in principle — but that final applications would, and should, be expected to have strict requirements to protect the environment.

Mr DeSilva said: “I don’t think the planning process is flawed — as long as it’s handled in accordance with law, and ours was. It’s not the first case which has been approved by a Minister and it won’t be the last.”

He added the warehouse space had been earmarked for a range of uses, including some office space, lumber storage and for the Goodyear tyre dealership already on the site.

Mr DeSilva said: “When you are in politics and are a Minister, these things are going to happen. But I don’t regret entering politics. Being in the political arena has challenges, but I’m enjoying being involved with the PLP.”

He said: “We have 50 employees — we’ve managed to keep the majority of our workers despite the difficult times. The reason we’ve been able to do that is because we are a very diversified company.

“These warehouses will make us more efficient, more flexible and allow us to keep on working.”

He added: “If I’d been told Mr Roban had turned down our appeal, I would have looked at taking it further. But that decision would not be mine alone – we have shareholders and these decisions would be taken by them.”