Of Cayman’s 108 registered beach-access paths, nearly a half – 55 – remain blocked to the public or have no identifying signage, according to figures supplied by the Public Lands Commission.
This is an improvement on the number of blocked access ways reported in a 2018 report by government’s Lands and Survey Department, which found that 91 of the paths were either blocked or lacked proper signs.
In 2017, the Progressives-led administration introduced the Public Lands Law, paving the way for the creation of the Public Lands Commission, an entity tasked with ensuring access for all to local beaches, among other functions.
Under attorney Terrence Caudeiron, who has been chair since its inception, the commission has been working to address blocked beach accesses on the island.
“Our main challenge may be getting the public’s patience and support while we begin the process of registering certain public accesses to Cayman’s beaches,” Caudeiron, speaking on behalf of the commission, told the Compass. “We believe that the planned public-education campaign will go a long way in explaining how the commission will accomplish this objective.”
The 2018 Lands and Survey report found a majority of local public-access paths were either blocked, neglected and overgrown with vegetation, or lacking proper signs. The report stated that out of the 108 officially registered public rights of way in Grand Cayman, only 17 were listed as clear, with signs.
The commission has been arranging for the clearance of paths and the erection of signs to enable better beach access.
As of June this year, there were 55 blocked registered rights of way on Grand Cayman, 26 with signage and 29 without signage, Caudeiron said, adding that verification of blocked registered rights of way on the Brac and Little Cayman is under way.
Speaking in the Legislative Assembly on 23 Oct., Lands Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly withdrew law changes meant to empower the Registrar of Lands to register undisputed public rights of way, such as beach access. Amendments to the Prescription (Amendment) Law 2020 and the Registered Land (Amendment) Law 2020 were withdrawn from the Legislative Assembly agenda.
The minister said the government intended to review and make necessary amendments to the law and resubmit it to the House.
When it comes to improving beach access, Caudeiron said the commission first determines under which of the three main categories of registered rights of way, an obstructed or partially obstructed rights of way falls.
The first category is major man-made obstruction, like walls, some of which were approved by the Central Planning Authority; the second is major environmental obstruction, like large overgrowth by flora; and the third is minor obstruction, which is essentially small overgrowth.
Caudeiron said there are clear penalties for obstruction under the Public Lands Law, with fines of up to $5,000 or six months’ imprisonment, or both. If the obstruction is not removed, the offender is liable to a daily fine of $500 for every day the obstruction persists. However, until regulations are in place, it is unclear if offenders can be penalised.
Caudeiron said, once regulations are approved, the commission would refer cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution of breaches where warnings have been issued but the party has failed to act.
In May 2017, Cabinet appointed members to the commission for an initial two-year period. Last December, a reconstituted commission was put in place for two years following the passage of the Public Lands (Amendment) Law 2019 in August last year.
Caudeiron said efforts of the first commission, through the survey team in the Lands and Survey Department, focussed on locating, inspecting and mapping all existing registered and unregistered beach accesses on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, and compiled the comprehensive Beach Access Report 2017. Regulations to accompany the Public Lands Law are currently being drafted.
“We are looking forward to the passage of the regulations under the PLL, which are currently under consideration. The object of these is to support the PLL and enable the commission to have procedures for the fulfilment of the Commission’s mandate,” she said.
Since January 2020, she said, the commission, which is required to meet at least six times a year, has focussed on the final review of the draft regulations, as well as the registration of rights of way as per the Beach Access Report.
Work was also being done on setting up a website, finalising and placing appropriate public land/beach access signage, and unblocking registered rights of way.
Under the Public Lands Law, the commission’s mandate includes protecting and regulating the use of public land by members of the public; enforcing public rights of way over private land; responding to complaints; and issuing permits for the use of and activities on public land. It is also tasked with advising the Ministry of Lands on general policies about the enforcement of the law.
The commission has an inspectorate division, which is manned by a chief inspector appointed by the ministry. Next month, the ministry will begin recruiting inspectors to work under the chief inspector, she said.
“Where there are disputed cases, the commission will be able to bring these to the Grand Court for resolution,” Caudeiron said.
In general, she added, most landowners comply with the law.
“Where the chief inspector has reported blocked registered rights of way, the initial aim is to approach these landowners, giving them a reasonable time to take corrective action to remove these barriers,” Caudeiron said.
The next step would be a public-education campaign to explain the role and responsibilities of the commission, as well as the “interplay between the stakeholders, especially when it comes to public rights over private land”.