For the most part, the Department of Environment’s recommendations to hold off on approving key development projects until needs assessments were completed have been ignored by the Central Planning Authority, the National Conservation Council has been told.

Director of the Department of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie presented DoE screening opinion decisions to the National Conservation Council for ratification on 21 July, on projects including: Dart’s new 10-storey hotel near the Kimpton, Aster Medcity hospital in West Bay, the 10-storey One GT hotel in George Town, and the Health City Camana Bay hospital.

Those projects have already been approved by the CPA.

However, she pointed out that in the absence of planning officer Marco Whittaker, who is on the council, or anyone from the planning department, she could not confirm all details on the related CPA decisions. The hotel slated for George Town received conditional approval in June.

Assessments recommended

The council, led by McFarlane Conolly, met for the first time in almost a year for a general meeting on 21 July at the Government Administration Building. The last time the council met was 19 Aug. 2020; the minutes from that session were confirmed at the latest meeting.

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The hotel and hospital projects highlighted by Ebanks-Petrie were approved by the CPA to proceed, even though the DoE had recommended that approval be withheld until needs assessments for each, together with accompanying traffic and socio-economic reports, be completed first.

At the open meeting, Ebanks-Petrie presented the DoE recommendation that no environmental impact assessment be required for Dart’s Hotel Indigo project, but the department still asked approval be held off until completion of the Seven Mile Beach Tourism Corridor Area Plan and the hotel needs assessment, which the Department of Planning is developing.

Similarly, the DoE recommended assessments and studies for the two hospital proposals, but the first phases of the projects have been approved without the imposition of these conditions.

Dart PAD requires EIA

Dart’s application for a Planned Area Development in West Bay, Ebanks-Petrie said, requires an EIA, given that the project exceeds multiple planning limits within the proposed area, between Governor’s Harbour and Salt Creek.

The PAD proposes development, which will take place from 2021 to 2034, of 398 condominiums, 58 house lots, 4,480 hotel rooms across multiple facilities, approximately 100,000 square feet of new retail space, and a 220-slip marina and fuel station.

She said the DoE recommended that the EIA also incorporate the application for the removal of beach rock in the area off Seven Mile Beach, which was trialled back in 2017 for the same project. Both, she said, are “inextricably linked”.

The DoE documents pointed out that the basis for the EIA included the total loss of protected species within the PAD site, such as at least 40 acres of mangroves, as well as the adverse impact on birds and other species that it supports.

Additional concerns related to critical habitat and nesting beaches for sea turtles, loss of public access to Seven Mile Beach, and the negative impacts on water quality from the proposed canal and marina development.

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