Legislators passed a pair of bills Tuesday to protect public access to Cayman’s beaches and regulate the activities of vendors who use the beach for their businesses.
Both the Prescription (Amendment) Bill, which allows government to apply to the Grand Court to settle disputes over beach access, and the Public Lands Bill, which creates a new unit to enforce those access rights and monitor commercial activity on the beaches, were unanimously approved for a second reading Tuesday.
Minister Kurt Tibbetts described the bills as “companion legislation” that would begin to deal with two long-running and contentious issues which he said had “plagued” Cayman for too long.
The amendment to the Prescription Law will allow government to use the courts to register beach access paths used by the public for more than 20 years, to ensure continued access.
This follows public complaints about landowners blocking paths, erecting fences and even building over established access routes.
Mr. Tibbetts said Lands and Survey staff are setting up a database of all beach access paths to ensure registered paths are maintained and that government could begin court action to clear and register blocked paths that could be proven as prescriptive rights of way.
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller supported the amendment but suggested it needed to come with penalties for landowners who block access.
Both Mr. Miller and East End legislator Arden McLean suggested government needed to go further to defend the public’s right to the beach itself, not simply the access paths.
Mr. Miller said several businesses, including major hotels on Seven Mile Beach, had begun to encroach on the beach, and reported security guards “running off” beachgoers at various points.
He said the Prescription Law entitles people to use the beach, where it had been used for 20 years or more, and no private landowner could claim ownership of the beach up to the line of vegetation.
He added, “People keep pushing the envelope, and the more we allow them to get away with it, the more they are going to want to take.”
Mr. Tibbetts said the Public Lands Bill, also tabled and approved on Tuesday night, sought to regulate all commercial activity on more than 250 publicly owned sites, including beaches, launching ramps and docks.
He said a new Public Lands Commission would be responsible for managing and regulating activity on the beaches, including taking up access disputes.
The commission will oversee an inspection unit, responsible for policing vendors who use the beach.
Residents of beach condos near Public Beach have complained for years about the renting of beach chairs, umbrellas, Jet Skis, banana boat rides and other items, as well as the sale of food and drink on the beach, which residents said is “destroying” the serenity of the area with a “carnival-type” atmosphere.
Under the new bill, such businesses will have to seek a “vendor’s licence” and fulfil certain criteria, including first aid and customer service training. Vendors who cause problems or fail to meet certain criteria can have their license pulled.
Mr. Tibbetts said the aim is to “raise the quality of the product and the beach experience.”
He added, “Government’s main objective is to enhance the quality of the product and not to penalize traders. We want to see them prosper also.”
The bill was approved for a second reading with some amendments, both from government and from Mr. Miller, to be considered at the committee stage.