The “willy-nilly” development of Grand Cayman properties and roads – as some lawmakers described it Wednesday – may soon end as government redraws zoning plans for the first time in more than 20 years.
Planning Ministry Chief Officer Alan Jones confirmed during a Legislative Assembly Public Accounts Committee hearing that $362,000 has been set aside in the 2018/19 budget for a development plan redraft, which will affect the construction of everything from residential homes, to apartments, to high-end hotels.
The 1997 development plan has not been updated since its inception, even though local planning laws require government to do so every five years.
The Public Accounts Committee this week reviewed why government officials had seemingly ignored a 2015 audit recommendation that the plan be updated, an oversight that meant the government was left without significant input in steering major building decisions.
“The failure of governments to maintain the currency of development plans may have led to the impression that this important government responsibility has been allowed to pass to the private sector,” the 2015 audit report states.
“This is the most glaring example of statutory requirements being ignored by successive governments,” Public Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller said Wednesday. “It is beyond me how this has been allowed to continue all these years without somebody … putting their foot down.”
Mr. Jones replied that his ministry has done “everything we can” to ensure the plan gets updated next year.
Mr. Miller said the government had been developing local roads, for example, in a “willy nilly” fashion since the 1988-1992 master ground transportation plan was completed.
Once those roads were in place to facilitate various projects, the development plan was amended “piecemeal” for specific developers or landowners for various purposes. “I’d guess it’s been done hundreds of times,” Mr. Miller said.
The lack of an overall plan also created a perception in the public that big business with ready cash can “get its plans through” the Central Planning Authority, while smaller residential or business plans faced bureaucratic red tape, accounts committee member Chris Saunders said.
“Then you have people say ‘I just won’t bother’ [with getting planning approval],” Mr. Saunders said. “That creates a culture that you don’t want.”
Planning Board members
Bodden Town West MLA Mr. Saunders said he noted another recommendation from the auditor’s 2015 report was also ignored – that planning board members should be rotated and changed after a certain period of service.
“We’ve had too many people with too many conflicts sitting on that board and nothing has been done about it,” he said. “That is one of the things that has been costing this country.”
Immediately after the release of the 2015 audit, the members of the planning board were reappointed, with all current members continuing to serve.
Mr. Jones said he had instructed ministry staff to prepare for the upcoming development plan review, assuming that funding for it would be approved in the upcoming budget.
He said at the moment, the plan applies only to Grand Cayman. There have never been separate development guidelines for Cayman Brac or Little Cayman, which operate under a body called the Development Control Board.
Mr. Miller asked why that should be. “We’re not talking about two different countries here, you know,” he said.