Planning for change

Cayman is changing. The island has more people, more roads, more buildings, more businesses and more traffic than ever before.

Now a committee of planning, environmental, legal and architectural specialists are seeking to create cohesiveness in Grand Cayman’s rampant growth.

Chaired by architect Burns Conolly, the Planning and Regulations Committee was formed recently to review and attempt to modernise the existing planning laws and regulations. Its remit is to propose a framework for how planning is carried out, which would then be filled in by government departments and entities.

The Planning Department has been reviewing an existing Development Plan, drawn up in 1997, for several years. Now, a new tack is being taken to get input from various sectors involved in the island’s expansion.

“This committee is independent of the Planning Department,” explained Mr. Conolly. “It has been set up to basically make recommendations to the ministry… We will use what the Planning Department has done to date, but we will look at it from a more global level.”

“We plan to recommend holistic changes to the entire planning system,” he added.

The new committee has nine members, drawn from a variety of backgrounds and expertise. As well as chairman Mr. Conolly who owns his own architecture and interior design company and ran for office as an independent candidate in May’s election, the committee includes former deputy permanent secretary for the Ministry of District Administration, Planning, Agriculture and Housing Christine Maltman;  assistant deputy director in the Planning Department, Ron Sanderson; lawyer Sammy Jackson; architect Cindy O’Hara; director for Hazard Management Cayman Islands McCleary Frederick; developer Michael Ryan; former Director of Environmental Health and another candidate who ran for election in May Walling Whittaker; and Barry Martinez from Cayman Utilities Company’s planning department.

Members of the public will also get a chance to give input on how Cayman can develop in a structured and organised fashion.

Mr. Conolly said the committee planned to set up a website where members of the public would be invited to send in submissions via email and possibly through a more formal process at a later date.

Mr. Conolly points to the area of Red Bay, around the Lion’s Centre, as an example of poorly planned development, the likes of which he hopes the work of the committee might prevent in future years.

“There are five or six buildings on one side that don’t have any relation to each other. It is the entry point to the capital, it is just a terrible example of urban design, but presumably all the buildings met the planning law,” he said.

“Our task is to create quality environments. That is one of the things we would have to look at to ensure that future development is more orderly and produces a quality environment,” he added.

The work done over the years by the Planning Depart to review the existing Development Plan will not go to waste, according to Haroon Pandohie, acting director of the Planning Department.

He said that his department is at a “stock-taking and analysis” stage with its review of the Development Plan and would see what the committee recommends before moving forward.

“Right now, the committee is in the process of looking at how everything is done. They are providing an outside view of where we are and will make recommendations about where we can go,” Mr. Pandohie said.

He hopes the review of the Development Plan and the work of the committee dovetails into a way forward for the entire planning and development of the islands.

A draft Development Plan has been drawn up, he said, but it is not available for public scrutiny right now.

“The committee is going to take a lot of information from the public and other entities and help to refine a planning vision for Cayman,” Mr Pandohie said. “We then, as a department, would do the technical work to achieve that vision.”

The Planning and Regulations Committee has seven goals. These include making recommendations on short-term regulation and policy change that would immediately impact inward investment; reviewing planning laws in the context of modern Caribbean and global planning principles; and reviewing the development of    a suitable and sustainable planning vision for the   Cayman Islands based on      the goals of the government and stakeholders.

It will also consider how the planning laws and regulations relate to all three islands of Cayman; will provide a new planning and zoning map; review the Central Planning Authority and the Planning Department policies to streamline the planning process and improve workflow through the department; and also recommend an implementation process and timetable.

The committee will work internally for the first few months and meet every Monday before seeking input from the public after Christmas.

One of the issues the committee is looking at is zoning plans, to consider if the existing method is still the most suitable one for Cayman. “It can definitely be improved upon,” Mr. Conolly said.

“At the moment, all applications go to Central Planning Authority and the CPA has a lot of discretion. That brings up the whole issue of appeals, there are a lot of appeals in the process,” he said.

One way to streamline the system would be to introduce “as of right” zoning – non-discretionary zoning standards that are determined in advance and are self-enforcing so they do not require special approval from the Central Planning Authority.

This would mean that to build in a particular zone, one would only need to make an application to the CPA to vary any of the detailed regulations set out for that zone. “That will turn a lot of the planning approval procedures into administrative procedures,” Mr. Conolly said.

Streamlining how permission to build is granted is also on the agenda for the committee. “We have regulations in the fire laws, electricity laws, the planning regulations, etc. We have departments that have the policy documents,    which we would look at to make recommendations on   how to streamline that to do one clear sample document,” Mr. Conolly said.

No review of long-term, term planning policies or   procedures would be worthwhile without taking population growth and management into account.

In December 2007, Principal Policy Advisor Philip Pedley submitted a discussion paper titled Population Scenarios: Past Trends and Future Possibilities, for the Chief Secretary and The Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs.

That paper stated future population scenarios based on Cayman’s population growth over the past 20 years. It showed an annual modest 3 per cent growth over the next several years would mean a population of 96,000 by 2026.

According to a review of immigration and local population figures last year by the Caymanian Compass, Cayman’s population is more than 60,000.
Mr. Conolly said the country could use government policy to deal with growth management, and also use planning laws.

“We are going to look at the general premise that the Islands will continue to grow based on previous information. However, what we will definitely be looking at is to provide sufficient planned area to absorb that growth in a manageable way,” he said.

One means of doing this would be to increase certain types of zoning. “At the moment, outside George Town, there is no general commercial zoning. It would just be irresponsible if you don’t look at increasing some zoning to take care of population growth,” he added.

Planning also needs to take environmental and conservation issues into account. A National Conservation Law, trumpeted by environmentalists and conservationists, but opposed strongly by many in the construction and development industry, has been drafted, but did not come before the Legislative Assembly during the last legislative term as planned.

Mr. Conolly said the committee was not tasked with reviewing that law, but it would take aspects of that law into account when reviewing planning regulations and policies.

He insisted that the environment would be taken into consideration when looking at planning in Cayman.

“The committee is not a standalone think tank. We are going to be pulling in departments and other entities such as the Department of Environment, Environmental Health, and Fire Services,” he said.

“There are other zones that would allow for use of the green technologies like solar power and wind generation we might try to identify,” he added.

The economic downturn has meant a halt to some planned development, but doubtless, Cayman will continue to grow and expand, both population- and development-wise once this slump passes. Whether the work of the committee and the Planning Department will be completed by then and laws and regulations amended to accommodate that growth in a more sophisticated and orderly fashion remains to be seen.