Cabinet planning exemptions used to fast-track park projects

Requirement to publish Gazette orders not clarified

McKeeva Bush looks on as Public Works Department staff work on the new playground in December 2018
McKeeva Bush looks on as Public Works Department staff work on the new playground in December 2018. The plot was granted planning exemption days later. - PHOTO- JAMES WHITTAKER

Twelve properties in Grand Cayman, including the site of the now-abandoned Smith Barcadere redevelopment project, have been granted Cabinet exemptions from planning permission since 2017.

The exemptions have allowed government to streamline projects championed by legislators, such as community parks, without subjecting them to the standard approval process.

A Cayman Compass freedom of information request submitted to the Ministry of Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure found that a majority of the exempt properties, nine out of the 12, were earmarked as community parks. Other exemptions were made for a car park at Spotts Beach, granted in February 2017, and a West Bay cemetery and police station, granted in October 2018.

The question of proper procedure for granting such exemptions persisted, however, as neither the Premier’s Office nor the ministry could provide clarification on where – or if – each of the exemptions had been published in the Cayman Islands Government Gazette, as stipulated in the Planning and Development Law.

Under that law, Cabinet may publish a Gazette order to waive the planning permission requirement if the project is deemed in the public interest.

Section 53 (1) of the law reads, “the Cabinet may, by Order published in the Gazette, waive the requirement to obtain permission”.

Head of the Premier’s Office Roy Tatum responded that he could not assist with questions about publication of the planning exemptions in the Gazette. He did not address the legal requirement to do so.

“As you will note, they are all to do with public parks or beaches; as was the intention with Smiths Barcadere which is now off the table. I cannot assist with the question on publication,” he wrote in a 14 May email.

The issue of publishing planning exemptions in the Gazette arose in February, amid public debate over the proposed redevelopment of Smith Barcadere. The project was eventually discarded following community objections.

The government-owned parcels at the cove were granted an exemption in July 2018, one week after a public meeting was held at South Sound Community Centre to discuss the site.

In February, neither the Central Planning Authority; Cabinet; the Ministry of Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure; nor the Premier’s Office could aid the Compass in locating the Smith Barcadere exemption notice in the Gazette.

At the time, the Central Planning Authority had redirected questions about the Gazette publication to Cabinet, which then redirected questions to the Ministry of Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure.

That ministry’s deputy chief officer, Tristan Hydes, then redirected questions to the head of the Premier’s Office, Roy Tatum.

“In an effort to provide you with a full response, I’m redirecting you to Mr. Tatum, to whom I’ve provided the relevant information you are seeking,” Hydes wrote on 19 Feb.

Tatum indicated he would provide a response regarding the Smith Barcadere exemption by 20 Feb., but that response was not received by the Compass.

Similarly, the ministry and the Premier’s Office have not provided clarification on the publication of exemption orders for the 11 additional properties listed in the Compass FOI request.

Those properties include three community parks in West Bay, two in central George Town, one in Prospect/Red Bay, one in Lower Valley and one in Breakers.

Premier Alden McLaughlin and Prospect MLA Austin Harris join members of the Prospect Red Bay Community Group to break ground on a new park in December 2019. The plot was granted planning exemption days after the celebration. – Photo: Submitted

The Prospect/Red Bay park, located between Victory Avenue and Prospect Drive, is divided in government’s FOI response as two separate exemptions, both granted on 17 Dec. 2019. Ground was broken on the park prior to the exemption, however, on 7 Dec. 2019, during a community gathering attended by Premier Alden McLaughlin and MLA Austin Harris.

Ground was also broken on a West Bay park several days prior to its exemption by Cabinet on 11 Dec. 2018.

West Bay West MLA McKeeva Bush appeared in a press photo with Public Works Department staff at the site, located at the corner of Florrie Dell Road and Ebanks Road, on 9 Dec. 2018.

Northward Prison inmates worked as labourers on the park project to construct the children’s playground.

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