Consultation on conservation law ends

Public consultation on the National Conservation has ended,
following a series of public meetings throughout Cayman and a briefing to
Chamber of Commerce members.

As well as seven district meetings, culminating in a
meeting on Cayman Brac on Thursday night, the Department of Environment also
briefed the business community about the proposed law, which has been met with
both support and hostility.

About 50 Chamber members turned out for a meeting on
Wednesday to hear Department of Environment officials and the Minister of
Environment Mark Scotland brief them on the proposed legislation.

He told the gathering: “Everyone recognises that this
government is promoting continued growth and development on the island and that
is what makes this even much more important that we are able to provide the
legislation that puts in place the parameters to respect that ever needed
balance between continued growth but that growth being sustainable as well.”

He said that although the official public consultation
ended Friday, input would be welcome beyond that date. The legislation is
expected to go before the Legislative Assembly in September, the minister said.

Plenty of public discourse

In opening comments at the Chamber of Commerce Be Informed
event on Wednesday at the Westin Casuarina Hotel, Chamber CEO Wil Pineau said:
“There has been much public discourse on the draft legislation. Some people
believe that the Department of Environment will be given too much control and
power. Some people are concerned that the bill will hamper development and
introduce onerous requirements that will drive up the cost of business and make
some pieces of valuable and limited land undevelopable.

“Others believe the bill is long overdue and should be
adopted immediately to prevent the further destruction of our already stressed
eco-systems, species and plants. Environmental advocates, in particular, warn
that unless we act now, Cayman’s environmental capital will continue to be
depleted and the country will lose many of its precious plants and species and
eco-systems.”

Among those attending the Chamber gathering were
representatives from the Cayman Islands Real Estate Brokers Association, the
Cayman Contractors Association and the Cayman Association of Architects,
Surveyors and Engineers.

Asked how people buying land or developing small properties
could better understand the application process, Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director
of the Department of Environment, displayed a map outlining Cayman’s primary
habitats of unaltered wetlands, forest, and shrub lands against which
landowners and developers could screen land parcels to determine if an
application on that location would trigger the National Conservation Council
process. The types of developments that would spark the process would also be
available to the public.

Architect Andrew Gibb asked if the Central Planning
Authority made a decision contrary to the National Conservation Council’s
recommendations, could those recommendations be used as a basis for legal
action against public officials involved in making the decision.

“There are always people who will seek to derail a
potential development,” he said, adding that if the council had made a
“reasonable and cogent case” for not going ahead, that could be used as
ammunition by an objector in an appeal.

Ms
Ebanks-Petrie replied that if the relevant department, agency or officer
dealing with an application acted in accordance with the guidelines and the
law, and used the maps and directives from the council, “they are going to be
in compliance with the law and they are not going to be open to any legal
action at that point”.

Chief officer of the Ministry of Health, Environment,
Youth, Sports and Culture, Jennifer Ahearn agreed that it could be used as
ammunition for the objector to use in an appeal, “but as long as the CPA can
demonstrate that they took the information into account, that they reached the
decision in a reasonable manner, then the CPA should not worry about whether
the objector is going to appeal if they believe their decision is defensible.
If it isn’t defensible, then perhaps the CPA has made the wrong decision”.

She added that amendments to the planning law passed by the
Legislative Assembly last week put appeals deadlines in place, as well a
provision that would award costs against an frivolous or vexatious objectors.

‘Long overdue’ plan

Applicants now have 14 days from the publication of the
planning permission decision to appeal and the appeal must be heard within six
months by the Planning Appeals Tribunal.

Business owner and community activist Billy Adam said there
had been repeated efforts over the decades to bring a law to protect the
environment, but none had been successful. “It is long overdue that we get a
law such as this,” he said.

“This
is for the future of our country, the seventh generation and the people who
have businesses here, and the people who have to live here. Our environment is
economically important and it’s also important to our health. We poison the
environment, we poison our body eventually,” Mr. Adam said.

He said the proposed law had not been revised by the
current government and was the same draft that was proposed in 2007 by the
previous People’s Progressive Movement government, which he said was a
“butchered” version of an earlier 2004 draft.

Mr. Adam said that the law enabled Cabinet to make
regulations and have final approval on development application decisions, a
move which was “against democracy” and effectively meant “government by
decree”.

“Regulations should go to the Legislative Assembly,” he
said.

Officials
said that under the law, Cabinet would have to give reasons for its decisions
and that since the public would know what was being sent to Cabinet for consideration
because they would have been consulted during
the process.

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