‘Private Property, Keep Out’: Beach access row remains unresolved

Legal amendments to address issue yet to be implemented

On Prospect Point Road, a chain-link fence blocks access to an overgrown path that leads to the beach.

Fastened to the fence, a sign warns, “Private Property, Keep Out.” Right next to it, a distinctive brown public beach access sign contradicts this instruction and directs tourists and beachgoers toward the blocked path.

The “keep out” sign was apparently erected on behalf of a private landowner, said to be concerned about drug use and damage to his property by those using the path.

The conflicting signs in Prospect are just the latest example of the tension between coastal landowners and beachgoers over the contentious issue of rights of access to Cayman’s beaches.

A year after legislation was passed in an effort to protect public access and ensure proper maintenance of beach paths, the long-running problem appears to have only got worse.

Multiple public beach access paths around Grand Cayman remain blocked, while additional accesses have been cut off and conflicts between hotel security guards and sunbathers over rights to the beach continue to be reported.

In the past month, residents have also reported access paths blocked along Seven Mile Beach and at Boggy Sand Road in West Bay.

Government moved to deal with the issue late last year by making amendments to the Prescriptions Law and the Registered Land Law, and creating a new Public Land Use Law, which officials said were designed to allow government to register access paths and compel landowners to keep them open to the public.

The Lands and Survey Department did not respond to requests for a progress update on efforts to implement the new legislation, which included a provision for a new unit to enforce beach access rights and monitor commercial activity on the beaches.

Premier Alden McLaughlin indicated in his budget policy statement that the unit had been set up, though it does not appear to be operational as yet.

He said, “We will be further strengthening the public’s rights to beach access through policies, procedures and regulations that guide the operations of the Public Lands Commission, which was established in June this year. This commission will ensure that beach access by the public is safeguarded and maintained on all three of our islands.”

The Security Centre issued a statement in reference to the blocked access on Prospect Point Road, indicating it had been asked to secure the access on behalf of a client.

“The customer expressed to us that he felt that the beach access was being used for illegal activities that included destruction of private property and drug use and the gate access was installed to protect property and to ensure that legal use was made of the access in the future,” the company said in a statement.

Beachfront property

A separate but related issue concerning the rights of access to public beaches in front of hotels and condos also raised its head again this week after Kimpton Seafire manager Steven Andre moved to address social media reports that security guards were asking tourists to move from the stretch of Seven Mile Beach in front of the hotel telling them it was reserved for guests.

Mr. Andre said he was not present for the alleged incident, but would ensure his security staff understood the responsibility to allow access and usage of the beach in front of the hotel.

“We fully understand the rights of the public to beach access. We have chairs in front of the hotel which are for guests, but we know there is public space along the beach for people to use if they would like.”

He said the chairs and pool area were for guests, but the beach was open to all, and his staff had never been instructed to prevent people from using the beach.

“It is not our business to throw people off public beaches,” he added, saying the hotel was keen to ensure it complied with the required legal boundaries.

Similar conflicts have been reported at hotels and condo developments along the beach for several years.

In its guidelines to hotels and beachfront property owners, the Department of Tourism indicates hoteliers have a responsibility to allow beach access to the public. It indicates that this extends beyond the high water mark, commonly held to be the dividing line between public and private property.

In its “guidelines for owners and managers of beachfront properties” it states, “Whilst members of the public have no rights to use private property such as beach furniture which belongs to beachfront property owners, they may not be prevented from using the beach or passing to and fro along the beach even where the beach they use is on private land.

“Hotel managers should ensure that all staff working on the beach such as security personnel and food and beverage staff are aware of the law and that the public right to use any part of the beach is not restricted or limited in any way.”

1 COMMENT

  1. The issue of blocking Public Beach access . I don’t understand why the Government don’t finnish establishing these beach access .
    I understand the importance of all parties involved . The Government has the responsibility to finnish making these PUBLIC BEACH ACCESS OPEN to the public FOREVER .
    The people who are using these access need to understand that the beach and water access , doesn’t give them the rights to intrude on people’s private property and use their faculties .

    I believe that the Government shouldn’t ignore fixing this problem forever.
    As I see it the Government is not doing everything they can do, and is playing the public while defending the land owners .

    I know that Caymanians have a short memory for these kind of things, but leaving these kind of things unfinished like this one is just asking for bigger problems down the road. We need to remember that the population of the Islands has doubled, so I might not be able to refrence the above mentioned no longer .

  2. It cannot be right for a private individual to block legal access regardless of their motives. If the concern is the ‘illegal activities’ of those using the ‘legal access’ then the illegal activity needs to be addressed through the normal police channels.

    In any case, the ‘drug use’ might be by someone who has a medical certificate to do so!

    Isn’t it strange how, in one article the Compass sets off a debate about cannabis use where there is very vocal options in supported of unregulated use of cannabis and then we have a landowner complaining about virtually the same thing.
    Narrow minded and polarised views me thinks.

  3. Narrow minded and polarised views me thinks

    So very very true, Mr. Ashley

    I have first-hand experience of this public beach access issue as a former security officer at one of the major hotels on the 7-Mile strip and can add perspective from experience.

    The public access to beach usage has been…and is being challenged at every turn because the CI Govt, has never enforced the existing laws as they stand…as weak as they are…and have only paid lip-service to the strengthening of those laws recently.

    In essence…nothing at all has been done because angering property owners is a worse option than angering the beach-going public….in the Govts.’ opinion, regardless of what they say.

    I’ve had to personally mediate and help to settle an ongoing and escalating conflict between my employers (the hotel) and one of its neighbors…an existing and neighboring hotel property that did not have direct beach access in which my employer (the manager) made every attempt to bully this property into not using the adjacent and common beach-front because it was ‘his’ beach.,,and reserved for his hotel’s guests only.

    Of course, the neighboring property was having none of that and challenged his actions vigorously.

    When we, as security staff, were directed to call the police to throw them off ‘our beach’, it went the completely opposite way.

    An agreement and border line was defined between myself and the police officer and we both agreed that both parties would have to stick to it…or face other legal issues arising from any continuing dispute…this was because, as the other property’s staff did…I knew the law on beach access and was not prepared to break that law on behalf of my employers…and the other party was not going to back down.

    I’ve now left that employment…and the islands but as far as I know…that agreement holds until this day…more than 18 months down the line.

    My point is…it is not only the more isolated accesses and owners…and beach-users that are involved in beach access disputes.

    Until the CI Govt. enforces the law….these disputes and denial of access will continue.

  4. I agree Ricardo, and to further verify the last sentence of your comment , and say how long this problem of public access and some land owners don’t comply with the Laws has existed for and not being enforced .

    My Father was a Government Official back in the 1960s . He was so instrumental in the development of his District that he represented he even had to buy land to get the roads put through . But one land owner wouldn’t give or sell any of his land to our house . So my dad had to get the road gazette through his property and he didn’t like that . Then my dad sensed a problem starting and reported it to Police , but that made no difference . Then my father made plans to defend himself if the disgruntled landowner tried to attack him . Then one day my dad was driving home and the landowner threw a fence post through his truck window and the landowner nearly lost his life and there were never no problems ever after with him .

    So I image these public access and land problems to get much worse in the future if the Government don’t fix this issue for one and all .

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