APPLICATION PROCESSING TIMES FALL BY ONE THIRD
by Jonathan Kent
Victoria Pereira, the director of Planning, is on a mission to make her department more efficient in dealing with applications and to demystify the planning process for the public.
While progress over the past year has been somewhat hampered by the pandemic, Ms Periera told RG Construction that significant improvements have been achieved.
The implementation last year of Energov, a paperless system that allows users to make and track applications online, proved timely and was key to Planning continuing to function throughout.
Ms Pereira said: “This continuation of work meant that when restrictions were lifted and it was safe to return to the office, we were not catching up on a pile of work waiting for us. We hit the ground running and kept Bermuda working when it needed it most. Without EnerGov that would not have been possible.
“Once the restrictions on the construction industry were lifted, there were 100 new building permits that had been issued and were ready to commence. Site inspections started again immediately, albeit with new personal protective measures in place, and the industry quickly gathered steam again.”
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, turnaround times have improved greatly. “For straightforward development proposals, the processing time has decreased on average from 12 weeks to eight weeks,” Ms Pereira said.
She attributes much of that success to the Scheme of Delegation, a change introduced last year, which allows the Development Applications Board (DAB) to delegate to the director of Planning its power to grant or refuse planning applications, empowering Ms Pereira to sign off on applications that fall within a defined scope.
“In excess of 300 planning applications have been approved under the Scheme of Delegation since its introduction, which has significantly eased the burden of the DAB and streamlined the decision-making progress for officers,” Ms Pereira said. She added that the Scheme had been received warmly by the construction industry.
An effort is also underway to deal more swiftly with minor revisions to applications by allowing planning inspectors to sign off on them in the field. “We have had a number of stakeholder meetings, both departmentally and industry-based, to assess what functions can be reasonably delegated to the field,” Ms Periera said. “We are actively working on the required processes and procedures in order to enact these proposed changes. Our intention is to then train the appropriate staff to ensure consistency in their delegated responsibility.”
The Competent Persons Scheme, which would allow registered tradespeople to carry out certain projects, such as solar panel installation, without the need for planning permission, has not advanced as hoped because of a “rearrangement of priorities” during the pandemic, Ms Pereira said. She hopes the scheme will become operational within the next year.
One positive pandemic spin-off Ms Pereira has seen is an increased interest in home renovation projects. “Property owners are choosing to invest in upgrades and expansions to their homes instead of other luxuries such as travel,” she said. “What we are observing is very encouraging for Bermuda’s economy and the Department is doing its best to keep up!”