Landowners who block established public rights of way through their properties to the beach could face court action from government under new legislative amendments tabled this week.

Planned changes to the Prescriptions Law will allow government to apply to the Grand Court to resolve disputes involving beach access paths.

The proposal is the first legislative step toward resolving an issue that has caused conflict between beachgoers, property owners and developers for decades.

A new Public Land Use Bill to regulate how beach access paths are managed is also planned, though this has yet to be published.

The proposals come in the wake of a growing number of complaints of private land owners blocking commonly used access paths to the beach.

In some cases, property owners have erected gates and removed beach access signs. In the most extreme cases, developers have built new properties across established access paths.

Any path that has been in consistent use by the public for more than 20 years already acquires the status of a public right of way under the Prescription Law, regardless of who owns the land.

However, enforcement of this legislation has been a challenge for decades.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly last year, Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts said the law was restrictive because it requires aggrieved citizens to bring a private lawsuit at their own expense to the Grand Court when an access is blocked.

The amendments will allow government to do it for them, effectively giving them power to intervene when landowners block public accesses.

An introduction to the amendment, published in the official government gazette this week, indicates that an agency charged with responsibility for ensuring public access to beaches would be able to make an application to the Grand Court to have a dispute settled.

The issue of ensuring public access to the beach in the face of increasing development, particularly along the Seven Mile strip, has come before multiple governments over the past 20 years with almost unanimous support from legislators.

Despite vocal support on all sides, rights of way have continued to be blocked.

An action group, Concerned Citizens, filed 500 affidavits with government in 2003 in an attempt to convince government to register nearly 200 beach access paths as public rights of way.

Director of Planning Haroon Pandohie, at the time an assistant in the planning department, wrote a memo to government’s lawyers in support of the move.

He wrote, “The department supports the move and would be most grateful if you could process these affidavits and supporting documentation through the courts … the increased population and tourist arrivals result in decreased areas for residents. Ensuring that all residents are allowed to access the beach and sea without too much difficulty will significantly contribute to our social development.”

Stephen Hall-Jones, at the time a senior Crown counsel, wrote that it was not possible under the law to register new rights of way en masse. He said the Prescriptions Law automatically created the right of way and the courts were mandated to intervene only if there was a dispute.

He said the only way to enforce the law was for citizens to bring private actions in court on each occasion their access was blocked. He said it was not possible for government to do it for them.

“Individual members of the public must launch individual lawsuits against individual landowners for individual declarations of the court …. The problem is that individual lawsuits are expensive and individuals may not be willing to spend lots of money establishing public rights of way on behalf of the public generally.”

He advised that there was no way round this issue other than for citizens to attempt to raise money for their lawsuits.

Now, nearly 15 years later, amid continued pressure from the Concerned Citizens Group and following on from a private members’ motion from East End Legislator Arden McLean last year highlighting new incidences of access paths being blocked, government is moving to change that law.

Under the proposed changes, government or the planning department could take court action against land owners that block accesses.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. In the UK rights of way are enforced by local authorities – if you block one it’s a criminal offence. That’s what should have been done here so the big question must be why wasn’t it? Old rule, ‘If you design something to fail it will,’ and that’s clearly what happens when you pass a law that had no teeth and was unworkable from day one so why did it ever make it through the LA in the first place?

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  2. I agree with David , and that’s the way that all public / beach access should be done in Law , but these politicians in Cayman Islands know that they can say and give the people what ever and there wouldn’t be any push back on it .

    What Government is going to do with beach public access they would not be able to enforce , but if you want to spend your money and time in Court the Law would be on your side , but not sure about the Judge .
    Let’s hear what Government is going to say on January 22 2017 on the purchase of the property a joining Smith Cove .

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  3. Ron

    You’ve got a clear understanding of the situation, which is nothing more than a paper compromise….with absolutely no more teeth in the law than it currently has.

    All this compromise will do is put the onus on beach goers who feel that their rights to access and use the beach has been denied, to pursue the matter in court themselves….and how many of them will have either the funds or willpower to take on affluent property owners who feel that they are powerful enough….and connected enough to flaunt any law that is put in place ?

    This is bs of the highest order…if the use of the beach is a legal right for ALL of the public…then denial of that right should be a criminal offense punishable in the same way that any other crime is…by prosecution and conviction by the Government.

    Having recently worked at a major hotel resort on the 7-Mile Beach, I’ve experienced first-hand, how things are working…on-the-ground…and have had to negotiate compromises between major resort owners in this controversy…involving the co-operation of the police, who rightfully feel that it is not their job to be involved in disputes of beach access.

    If the hotel and resort owners are fighting over beach access and use…..

    What chance do the average beach goers stand when they have been intimidated and bullied by property owners into hesitating to use their rightful access and enjoyment of the beaches of Cayman when their own Government has sold those rights down the drain for the sake of the stamp duty involved in the sale and development of the most valuable property in the Cayman Islands ?

    In my experience and humble opinion ?

    Absolutely none at all.

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  4. Mr. Botes.

    Did the politicians make some different promise to you , than they made to the Citizens of the Islands ? I don’t see where they are keeping any promises to the public .

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