West Bay mangroves cleared without permission

Approval sought ‘after the fact’

This area of mangroves by Uncle Bob Road, West Bay, has been cleared. - Photo: Carolina Lopez

A developer who cleared an area of mangrove forest without planning permission had his after-the-fact application to clear the site adjourned by the Central Planning Authority last week.

John Burke, whose after-the-fact application was heard at the CPA meeting on 8 Jan., had been issued with a stop notice in August last year after Department of Environment staff visited the site at Uncle Bob Road in West Bay to find it was already mostly cleared.

Ron Sanderson, deputy director of the Planning Department, said the application was considered and adjourned in order to invite the applicant to discuss concerns regarding the after-the-fact land clearing.

“The members were concerned with the after-the-fact nature of the land clearing and wished to seek a response from the applicant for the reasons the action was taken.” Sanderson said.

In his letter to the CPA, Burke, who was granted permission at the meeting to create a nine-lot subdivision at the site, stated that he had not realised that clearing the land required special approval.

“Over the years, the property to the south of The Shores has been known to attract undesirables and illicit activity, and has presented significant security weaknesses in the project and from a security perspective, The Shores will become a safer place to live,”

Burke stated in his application letter, to which the DoE responded in its statement, “the current state of the site is not an improvement over the previous mangrove forest”.

The DoE, in its submission on the application, also noted, “The subject parcel was tidally flooded mangrove forest and woodland. However, prior to receiving the planning review for this application, the DoE received a number of complaints from members of the public that the parcel was being cleared. The DoE conducted a site visit on 30 August 2019 and the subject parcel had been nearly entirely cleared,”

The DoE statement said there was “little benefit” to being consulted on an after-the-fact land-clearing planning application.

“As the clearing has already taken place, the opportunity for reviewing agencies to provide constructive comments and feedback is removed. We cannot recommend the retention of ecologically valuable flora. We cannot recommend retaining a buffer between the parcels and Bayshore Drive or Uncle Bob Road, and between subdivided lots, in order to provide a visual barrier and assist in drainage,” the DoE stated.

In addition, the department pointed to potential flooding issues due to the development, advising, “A thorough stormwater management plan for this development needs to be devised in order to ensure that the proposal does not cause flooding within the development or the surrounding residential parcel.”

The National Roads Authority, in its submission, agreed, saying, “A comprehensive drainage plan needs to be provided by the applicant for the entire project.”

The DoE also pointed to objections about the condition of the site. “We have received complaints regarding odour from the decaying organic material and standing water,” the

DoE said in its statement, adding that this site is not the only one where mangroves have been cleared without permission. “There have been a number of instances over the last few weeks where the Department has noted clearing commencing solely based on the fact that a planning application has been submitted.

“This approach to clearing and works commencing prior to planning permission being granted is extremely worrying. It removes the opportunity for reviewing agencies to provide constructive comments and feedback on best management practices and recommendations for retention of ecologically valuable flora to be retained, which may prove beneficial to the landowners and wider area.”

The DoE added that unauthorised clearing of land undermines the consultation and planning processes.

However, the department told the Cayman Compass that the DoE does not have the authority to take matters regarding unauthorised clearing of land into its own hands.

“Under current Development and Planning Law, the responsibility falls to the Planning Department to bring prosecutions in cases where land has been cleared prior to obtaining permission from the Central Planning Authority. Neither the National Conservation Council nor Department of Environment currently has legal authority to bring such a case,” the DoE said.

“It is worth noting that a Mangrove Species Conservation Plan, which would make unpermitted clearing of mangroves a National Conservation Law offence, as well as a Planning Law offence, and which the DoE could enforce, has undergone public review and has been sent by the National Conservation Council to Cabinet for consideration before final approval,” the DoE added.

Sanderson said Burke’s application had been rescheduled for 5 Feb. for the applicant to provide input to the authority and the CPA to make a final decision.

Editor’s Note: This story has been amended from the original, which stated that the application had been approved. That information was provided by a CPA board member

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Evidently the government still does not get it. Mangroves are where young fish grow up. It is the nursery for the waters around the island. If the mangroves are removed there will be less fish in the waters around the island. If there are less fish there will be less coral. If there is less coral there will be less scuba divers. Everyone is concerned about losing some coral in the George Town harbor but no one seems to care that we are losing much more of it all around the island.