Throne Speech Media Briefing
Lt. Col. the Hon. David A. Burch, OBE (Mil), ED, JP, MP
Thank you for joining us today as we delve into two of the Ministry of Public Works initiatives outlined in the recent Speech from the Throne under the theme of 'Serving the People’.
One of the paramount issues highlighted in the Speech is the challenge of affordable housing — a concern affecting the core of our island community.
The shortage of private-sector housing has led us to confront what can only be termed a housing crisis. This scarcity has increased rental costs and threatened our island's economic development.
In response, the Government has pledged a substantial commitment of $15 million dollars over the next three years towards renovating more affordable public housing units.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Works, in collaboration with the Bermuda Housing Corporation, continues to make significant progress in renovating and retrofitting 137 older residential units. To date 68 units have been completed and are either occupied or in the process of being occupied. These efforts will increase the availability of affordable housing options for Bermudians.
60 of these units are presently occupied and will undergo necessary refurbishments, while the remaining 77 units, which comprise the entire vacant and derelict units owned by the Corporation, are slated for significant retrofits.
These 77 units will increase the BHC rental inventory to 777 units upon completion, significantly augmenting our housing resources.
We understand that the fluctuating nature of the market fails to consider those who require assistance in attaining homeownership or ensuring a stable living environment for themselves and their families.
I'm proud to highlight the successful refurbishment of several housing units, including the Rock Oven housing apartment in St David's, designed for a disabled family and which was formally opened a few weeks ago; the first phase of the refurbishment of the former hotel rooms at Harmony Club in Paget into apartments in September; and the completion of the 5- bedroom rooming house at Beacon Hill in Sandy's in October.
Other properties include #5 Aunt Jinny's Lane, which has been completed and is now occupied; 22 Battery Road, which is near completion; Regent House in St. George's, which has been completed; the 13-unit Chelsea Apartments in St. George's, and the 12-unit Battery Road Lofts refurbishment in St. David's,, both of which are awaiting planning approval.
These projects mark significant progress in our commitment to ensuring suitable accommodation for our people. The concentration has been on multiple units to provide housing for several families at a time.
We are actively promoting housing developments within designated residential zones outlined in the Bermuda Plan and other specified geographical regions.
According to the Department of Planning, 582 parcels or 181 acres of unoccupied land are classified under Residential 1, Residential 2, or rural categories without conservation development constraints.
An in-depth analysis of housing supply and demand reveals a substantial availability of land within current residential zones, Mixed-Use Zones, and the City of Hamilton. Consequently, if required, there's no immediate need to designate new lands for residential zoning.
The Bermuda Housing Corporation's Private Sector Rental Programme, provides for the Corporation to manage the property, pay the rent on time and return the property in the condition it was originally rented – all at slightly below market rates.
Landlords grappling with renting their properties can now find support through this initiative which removes the day-to-day burden of managing properties.
The Government's Mortgage Guarantee programme has already paved the way for forty-nine applicants to secure mortgages through local banks, empowering them to own homes for the first time.
The provision of housing in the country cannot be the responsibility of the Government alone – we have made provision for private developers to gain concessions by building in the Economic Empowerment Zones and the City of Hamilton.
Another critical aspect for the Ministry highlighted in the Throne Speech is our focus on improving our public highways.
To be perfectly frank – this year has been a trying one for road paving as the equipment and plant have not been in the best shape. Several months of repairs to the plant have still not brought it back into service. We have been collaborating with the supplier of the plant, who currently has a representative on the island reviewing the state of the plant and options for its replacement.
We acknowledge the inconvenience caused by delays due to island-wide trenching, and we are committed to upgrading road conditions for the benefit of all motorists as soon as possible.
The repair and maintenance of our roads remain a top priority for the Ministry of Public Works. It's crucial to emphasize that while the current inconveniences might cause frustration among the motoring public, the eventual benefits will be significant.
The ongoing infrastructure projects, such as BELCO's $250 million capital plan and our Water and Wastewater Masterplan, involve:
- Excavating our roads.
- Safeguarding our freshwater supplies.
- Fortifying our electrical infrastructure, and
- Ensuring proper sewage disposal.
The public will recall the very wet start to summer and the work our Ministry has been doing to fix potholes on our roads.
We have successfully filled more than 100 potholes spread across twenty-one different areas across the island. Once again, I encourage residents to continue to report potholes to us via our email address -- firstname.lastname@example.org. All reports will be promptly attended to and rectified.
The Ministry has allocated a budget of just over two million dollars for road works this year, plus an additional $900,000 from the previous fiscal year, bolstering our capability to undertake more substantial capital roadworks within this period.
While work continues on assessing our plant, we are working closely with East End Asphalt to both assist us with paving as well as providing our paving crews with asphalt. This process will run in parallel with the plans for a new plant so that paving work can continue whilst we source a new plant.
Efforts to increase funding for paving are also underway as we review our capital spending for the balance of this year.
The Ministry is committed to delivering on these two main Throne Speech initiatives while also managing the variety of other tasks that fall under the Ministry of Public Works.