Premier Alden McLaughlin has said agreement has been reached with Grand Harbour and Davenport Development for a local access road for the Red Bay and Prospect communities to ease traffic woes in the area.
McLaughlin made the announcement at the Chamber of Commerce candidate debate forum Monday night where he squared off with his opponent: attorney Sammy Jackson.
The incumbent MP said agreement was reached earlier on Monday with the neighboring developments.
“We have today reached agreement with respect to local access from Selkirk Drive into the Grand Harbour and Davenport development and, along with that, the plan is for the creation of local access all the way from Grand Harbour roundabout through to Admiral’s Landing to avoid motorists and residents in that area having to deal with what will become a six-lane highway,” McLaughlin said.
Earlier this month, Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew said more than $30 million will be spent to build, widen and expand a network of roads across Grand Cayman over the next three years. Included in that package of works are improvements to the roadways touching those communities.
Jackson, in his response, said he would like to address the traffic issue not just for Red Bay, but Prospect as well.
He lamented that the East-West Arterial was “simply a bypass” and not sufficient to serve the 4000 plus persons in the communities of Red Bay and Prospect.
McLaughlin countered that Red Bay is the “narrowest point of the island” and is one mile from South Sound to the North Sound and very built up “so it makes expansion extremely challenging.”
However, he said the current roadworks plan, which has been a four year exercise, will provide a measure of relief.
“Work is now very much underway to create six lanes all the way down into the Linford Pierson Highway and on to Bobby Thompson Way. We expect the whole of that job will be completed before the end of this year, but the key bits down to Grand Harbour should be completed in another month to six weeks which are going to make a huge difference,” he said.
He also added that agreement was reached on purchasing land from Bobby Thompson which will further facilitate the ongoing Linford Pierson Highway expansion.
“We are not going to have to battle over the issues with the horse stables there anymore. We’ve acquired, or are in the process of acquiring, the land from Mr. Bobby Thompson to the south so there’s going to be a general, significant expansion of roadways and which should provide fairly early relief to those people who have to traverse there.
The border reopening also remains a top priority, McLaughlin said, adding that he remains hopeful that – on the present trajectory of the national vaccination programme – in a few weeks Cayman would hit the overall numbers that government is aiming for with the broader population.
“I suspect that it will take us into May or June before we have 75 to 80 of the population here vaccinated, which will then allow us to reopen our borders relatively safely. Following that is an incredible amount of work, much of which is already on the way. [That] will have to continue to be able to start to attract leisure tourism back to these islands,” he said.
Cost of living, crime take the spotlight
Both McLaughlin and Jackson agreed the high cost of living is an issue in the Cayman Islands, but the premier said it is not a simple one to deal with.
“Cost of living is always the top issue in every election I’ve ever stood in and it is very common for candidates, especially new candidates, to say we have to do something about the cost of living. When they get into government, they realise how limited the tools that are available to government actually are in an economy set up the way ours is, with no form of direct taxation, no price controls… very open economy,” he said.
Government, he said, sought very hard to avoid increasing the cost of living and reduced duties to help keep prices down.
However Jackson, during his turn to address the topic, said there are things that can be done to lower the cost of living.
“We can certainly, with the right legislative initiatives and the right governance, ensure that consumers in Cayman are protected from things such as overcharging. First, for starters, we can lower the import duty on some essential goods like women’s sanitary napkins, baby food and diapers, all of which are 22 per cent,” he said.
A closer look at the customs tier flow, he said, is needed.
“But the premier is right, removing those things by themselves won’t guarantee us a drop in prices because the vendors might not necessarily respond to that, because we have never regulated them,” he said.
Jackson said this raised the question why Cayman still does not have a consumer protection law, even after the Law Reform Commission’s report provided a draft legislative framework.
The attorney, in his introductory remarks, also said – apart from the cost of living – constituents in Red Bay have raised concerns about crime in the area.
“I think that it would be certainly useful to look into the possibility of putting a small outpost police station in the area so that you could have rapid response time. I know there’s a community policeman who’s assigned to that area, but with 4000 residents I don’t think that is adequate,” he said.
McLaughlin, addressing the issue of crime, said government has done well in that area since the introduction of community policing.
However, he said, he would like to promote more organised community watches building on the effective WhatsApp chat groups already in operation in Red Bay and Prospect.
“I think if we move now to organising neighbourhood watches, we will significantly increase the overall safety of those two communities,” he added.
The candidates also tackled issues such as improving education, development, introducing a national lottery system.
The Cayman Crosstalk district debate for Red Bay will take place at 8am on 31 March.