I read with interest the article in last Friday's edition of the Bermuda Sun entitled 'Clayhouse Inn will reign supreme again'.

The article described plans to build "12 new homes, a 100-seat restaurant and other amenities on the North Shore Road site".

The prospect of development at the Clayhouse Inn should ideally spark a sense of optimism and enthusiasm.

The site has been in a dilapidated state for many years and development has the potential to improve the appearance and enhance the facilities for the surrounding community.

But the subsequent statement directly beneath the headline immediately requires pause for further thought - 'Blakeney overturns planning decision to allow new building to go up'.

I visited the Department of Planning's website to investigate the reasons the board refused the development application.

The first outlined the lack of some procedural information regarding storm-water discharge and the relocation of a bus lay-by.

These could perhaps be argued to be minor points.

But the following paragraphs detailed how the proposed development failed to comply with the Bermuda Plan on various levels.

The development is felt to be of "an intensity, massing and scale considered excessive and an over-development of the site".

It "encroaches into conservation zones" and is not "in harmony with residential forms of development in the area".

In short, the proposed development was found to be "too big for the space".

Many local residents apparently shared this sentiment and duly submitted letters of objection in compliance with planning regulations.

But the developer appealed the decision and Minister Blakeney upheld this appeal.

An online comment from a member of the public in response to the article asks: "Why do we have a planning department if nearly all refusals are overturned anyway?"

Frustration

While this statement may be a generalisation, it does encapsulate the sense of resignation and frustration many feel in reading of such a decision.

The Department of Planning is the Government body charged with determining if proposed developments are appropriate.

The Bermuda Plan has been painstakingly developed, reviewed, scrutinised and debated to provide a framework within which to assess each development application. The Plan is not perfect but it is the existing legal document designed to manage development in Bermuda in a sustainable way.

Our Development and Planning Act allows for significant Ministerial powers to overrule the decisions of the Department of Planning.

This power was built into the Act to allow for some discretion and flexibility - but when it is applied with frequent regularity and with little public explanation, it serves to undermine the status of the Planning Department, its technical officers and its board.

In addition, it creates a public perception that rules are upheld for some and not for others and removes faith in the process being fair and equitable.

I should make it clear that I am not opposed to development on the Clayhouse Inn site.

I spent several years of my childhood living in that neighbourhood and remember the Clayhouse in better times. Mr. Donald Evans, son of the illustrious Dame Lois Browne-Evans, states his intention to "restore lustre to the property and to manage it with integrity and character representative of its surrounding neighbourhood".

Surely this desirable aim could be accomplished on a scale that would conform to the Bermuda Plan?

Bermuda's land mass is limited and "over-development" is difficult to undo.

Development that encroaches upon conservation areas must be even more highly scrutinised.

Decisions that overturn Department of Planning rulings should be made with open explanation to convince the public these rulings are in the best interests of sustain- able development for Bermuda. That is the better way.

DR. KATHERINE MICHELMORE is the Bermuda Democratic Alliance's deputy leader and spokesperson for the environment.