A multimillion-dollar project to build a 27-hole golf course in the eastern districts was granted planning approval this week, despite calls for an environmental impact assessment to be carried out before work begins.
Ironwood confirmed Thursday that it has been granted permission by the Central Planning Authority for the Arnold Palmer-designed PGA Championship golf course, the first phase of a planned $350 million leisure and tourism venture.
The Central Planning Authority imposed some conditions but did not request an impact assessment on the project, which will involve reshaping more than 500 acres of brush, mangrove and woodland and the creation of a network of man-made lakes for the golf course.
James McVey, the project director, said, “This is great news. It is a major hurdle cleared and we can get on with building a golf course that the Cayman Islands can be proud of.”
He said the developer is environmentally conscious and would delay construction to account for the blue iguana nesting season. But he said the potential costs and time involved in carrying out an environmental impact assessment would have impacted the viability of the development.
“I suspect it would have delayed things to the point where the money might not have waited for us. It could possibly have killed the whole project,” he said. The Central Planning Authority heard representation Wednesday from the developer, as well as from the National Conservation Council and other objectors.
In its appraisal of the application, the Department of Environment wrote that the 534-acre site, next to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, the hub of the blue iguana recovery program, is largely made up of “pristine undisturbed habitat,” including mangroves and woodland supporting a diverse range of different species.
Ironwood ultimately plans a hotel, retirement homes and a town center in the area and is in discussions with government about an extension to the East-West Arterial Highway to provide speedy access from George Town. Given the likely breadth of the project, the Department of Environment suggested in its analysis that a Planned Area Development application be submitted along with an environmental impact assessment.
It said such an assessment would help “ensure that the development proposals are appropriate, necessary, economically viable, sustainable and based on sound planning principles.”
The department also highlighted concerns that excavation work could take place without any guarantee that the project would come to fruition. It suggested that if the plan were approved, the developer should be required to put up a performance bond, saying government had no other mechanism to seek compensation if the development was “rendered unviable during the lifetime of the construction of the golf course.”
Mr. McVey said construction would begin in October, with the aim of completion within two years.
He said the developer would work with the Department of Environment and the National Trust and had engaged its own environmental engineering consultant to minimize the impact.
He acknowledged there would be significant reshaping of the land, including blasting new lakes.
“We are going to remove some trees and reshape the land,” he said. “Obviously, in two years it won’t look like it does now. To my mind, it is an improvement, but other people look at it differently and that’s fine.”
He said the course would be designed around the natural attributes of the site.
Mr. McVey said the environmental impact assessment process, as currently designed, is not clear enough for developers.
“People use the word EIA and wave it round like a big stick, but they don’t know how much it is going to cost, how long it is going to take. It is problematic. If it was better designed as to the process, it might not be such an issue,” he said.
Ironwood developer David Moffitt said in a press statement Thursday that he was pleased to get planning approval. “We have been working diligently with the community, the National Trust, government, and first-rate local and international companies over the last several years to get this project off the ground and are delighted that the real work is about to begin. We are on the road to making the Ironwood dream a reality.”
He said Ironwood has already shown its desire to work with its neighbors and consider environmental concerns by creating a buffer between the site and the Botanic Park and agreeing to change the route of a proposed road extension after learning of concerns from the National Trust.
Government and Ironwood have still not agreed a deal for the long-discussed plan to extend the East-West Arterial Highway by 10 miles to create easier access to the development.
If an agreement cannot be reached, Ironwood still plans to go ahead with the golf course but will get a package of duty concessions from government. If an agreement is reached for the road, then Ironwood will forgo those concessions.