The National Trust has defended its chairman, architect Andrew Gibb, following public criticism of his role in a planning application for a new resort in Beach Bay.

Residents opposed to the St. James Point resort, a 125-room hotel and condo development planned for the Bodden Town area, said they were astounded to learn that Gibb, the architect who presented the plans at Wednesday’s Central Planning Authority meeting, was also chairman of the National Trust.

The plans include some buildings directly on the beach, which is opposed by the Department of Environment and was labelled “ludicrous” by the Trust’s executive director Nadia Hardie during a separate meeting of the National Conservation Council last week.

Hardie told the Cayman Compass that Gibb was an elected volunteer who had provided “incalculable value” to the organisation over the years. She said the Trust’s official positions were agreed by a council of 17 members and any member recused themselves from debates that conflicted with their outside business interests. She said she does not believe that Gibb’s professional role as an architect should be a concern.

“All council members have day jobs and working on this small island, conflicts of interest will arise at some point. This is a fact that many boards and statutory authorities have to deal with in Cayman,” she said.

“The mere fact that I spoke out at the conservation council meeting, as the Director of the Trust, regarding our concerns on this project clearly demonstrates there is no conflict,” she added.

Lindsay Parr, one of the neighbouring residents who objected to the resort plans at the Central Planning Authority meeting Wednesday, said she had raised concerns about the impact on turtle nests and on habitat for nesting Cayman parrots, because she had thought the developer was unaware of those issues.

She said she had been surprised to learn that the architect presenting the plans was also chairman of the Trust.

She said she understood he was carrying out his job as an architect, but was still concerned about what she sees as a conflict of interest.

“If your job is a nutritionist and you are there to help people lose weight, you can’t go and open a chocolate factory,” she added.

Hardie, in a separate media statement released on Friday evening, said Gibb’s contribution was important to the Trust.

“We are often faced with addressing the ever-increasing and delicate balance between future development and conservation,” she said. “While some may view Gibb’s professional vocation as a direct conflict of interest with the Trust’s mandate, his expert knowledge of the often-complex planning laws has been incalculably valuable and has allowed the Trust on many occasions to best respond, object and present recommendations to the Central Planning Authority regarding proposed developments within our purview.”

In the case of the proposed Beach Bay resort development, the law prohibits the Trust from formally objecting against the development, as it does not own any adjacent land.

“We can’t object in our capacity as the National Trust, but we can, and will, push the Central Planning Authority to take into consideration the recommendations put through the National Conservation Council,” she said.

The Central Planning Authority will ultimately decide if the project proceeds based on advice from numerous agencies, including the conservation council, National Roads Authority and the planning department.

After hearing from the developer, through Gibb and another representative, Spencer Levine, as well as numerous objectors at Wednesday’s meeting, the board adjourned the application to allow the applicant to make revisions to the plans.

Recommended changes included the high water mark setback, the location of the required public access to the sea, the location of the ‘back of house’ facilities and the number of parking spaces.

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