Hamilton and Beyond
A different direction needed to sustain Bermuda
Sustainable development constrained by small land mass and limited natural resources
Wednesday, March 3, 2010 10:37 AM
Hamilton and Beyond this month takes a different approach to commerce inside and outside the city.
* Photo by B. Candace Ray. Charles Brown, director of the Sustainable Development Unit, explains the importance of the sustainable development plan.
The Government's Sustainable Development Strategy and Implementation Plan, Charting our Course: Sustaining Bermuda notes that limited natural resources and a finite land mass restrain what can be undertaken here without sacrificing our quality of life. The document refers to congested roads, air pollution and the stigma attached to public transport.
Under Theme 2, 'Living within Bermuda's Limits,' the blueprint provides a guide for an ongoing process to address these issues. Promoting the decentralization of business is one such action.
Charles Brown is the director of Government's Sustainable Development Unit (SDU).
"It's one of the most important units within Government, at least in my view," Mr. Brown said. "The Sustainable Development Unit is mandated to work in partnership with other ministries and departments, and in that regard, we have the responsibility for implementation of the Sustainable Development Plan."
According to Mr. Brown, different recommendations have been assigned to different ministries. The Ministry of Finance, for example, is expected to take the lead in the decentralization of commerce by offering incentives to businesses that relocate outside the city.
Relocation could be to another area of Pembroke, Devonshire, Flatt's or Southampton. The speculation was raised, for example, that the old Sonesta Beach site could be re-developed with a third devoted to commerce and the remaining two-thirds continue with its tourism orientation.
"I suspect that the cost per square foot is lower," Mr. Brown said of businesses relocating outside the City of Hamilton.
He also noted the reduced stress this would have on the city's infrastructure, including demand for water and parking as well as a reduction in the less friendly vehicular traffic.
"It would certainly reduce the volume of traffic that is concentrated on the routes to Hamilton," Mr. Brown said. He admitted, however, that such moves could not take place without considering the cost and benefit implications for each business, the reasonableness of the decision for customers who may already be within walking distance and for staff whose commute in some cases may become less favourable. A business would want to survey those customers prior to any decision's being taken, and unions and other stakeholders might also have to be consulted. Also, any move away from the city centre would need to be supported by a like move of food and beverage providers, office supply stores and similar reinforcements.
"All commerce [government and private] should consider whether or not it is feasible, Mr. Brown said. "... If your goal is to decentralize within reason, then the support services for decentralization must be compatible with that goal."
It's all about quality of life - a countrywide concern.
"We all have a part to play in improving the quality of life and maintaining the quality of life in Bermuda," Mr. Brown said. "There's capacity within the ends of the island, particularly, to absorb commercial activity."
He noted, for example, how Hamilton's Harbour Nights is reflected in the East End's 'St. George's Market Nights' and the West End's 'Destination Dockyard.' These can be seen to indicate a desire for the strengthening of economic activity there.
Any movement away from Hamilton to either end of the island could be modelled on the Economic Empowerment Zone (EEZ) on Court Street - an early success of the 2008 document. These are being actively considered, according to Mr. Brown.
"That is consistent with Theme 4, to build a strong and inclusive economy," he said. "The previously disenfranchised are now being franchised, an intentional policy. The Sustainable Development Plan reflects that."
In partnering with his government colleagues, the SDU director will discuss the means by which decentralization is measured. The potential exists for monitoring of the census, or perhaps of employment surveys with a geographical question added. Information might be gleaned from Chamber of Commerce, or Bermuda International Business Association members. Reinsurers and other employer statistics might be utilized. Such measures could help determine if decentralization is in fact occurring.
Mr. Brown said: "Sustainable development is not something you achieve, pat yourself on the back and walk away. Ideally, it will become a household phrase... You cannot legislate this mammoth change that's required... We're going to imbed the principle of sustainable development in our decision-making."
The different characteristics of businesses A and B, as determined by the individual company's feasibility assessment, will dictate whether one or both is a candidate for relocation.
"The plan is dynamic," Mr. Brown noted. It's not a fixed piece that you're only going to do what is in the plan."
He also said: "Public consultation occurred. The preparation of the plan was the result of a significant cross-section of the community, including government, non-government, the private sector, charities, social and workmen's clubs and interested private citizens. Although we're tasked with implementation, this is a social contract with the community of Bermuda."
To see a copy of the Sustainable Development Plan, go to www.sdbermuda.gov.bm. Click Strategy and Implementation Plan on the menu to the left.