Ilhas Cayman, Cayman Compass, Inglês

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Map of planned site of 20 North Development (from DoE submissions to CPA)

(CNS): A controversial application for 95 apartments on very low-lying wetlands off Willie Farrington Drive in West Bay has been formally referred by the Central Planning Authority to the National Conservation Council. However, the NCC has already submitted its comments on the environmental issues with 20 North Development, pointing out that it is seasonally flooded mangrove habitat, on average no more than a foot above sea level.

As is the case for numerous other agencies, such as the National Roads Authority and Water Authority, all CPA applications on non-man-modified land are reviewed by the Department of Environment’s technical experts. This allows them to offer assistance to developers to reduce the damage that man-made structures pose to the natural world.

Under the National Conservation Act, the NCC can, based on the technical expertise of the DoE, direct a refusal only in very limited circumstances. To date, it has done so on very few occasions, usually as a result of direct threats to marine protected habitats.

Before all CPA meetings, NCC supplies the board with all of the necessary information on the environmental concerns to make its decisions. It is still not clear why the board members are interpreting the conservation law in such a way that they are nevertheless choosing to refer projects back to the NCC.

The board is using the legislation in such a way that, after questioning applicants, the members, none of whom are environmental scientists, decide whether or not an application triggers provisions in the law to consult the NCC. The CPA and other government officials, including Cabinet ministers and the development lobby, have then accused the NCC of fettering and delaying development.

CNS has confirmed that in this case, the DoE will be submitting largely the same technical advice to the NCC that it has been offering on this project since it first came before the CPA last August. These submissions were updated prior to last month’s hearing after the project had been downsized and the proposals for drainage improved.

The DoE has raised numerous concerns that have been clearly stated. While the department cannot direct the CPA to refuse the application, it has supplied detailed advice to the landowner about mitigation measures and warnings about the flooding that is likely to occur and why.

According to the minutes of the meeting, despite having a full review of the environmental issues, the CPA took several steps back. The board members did not question the applicant on information supplied by the NCC about the specific location but confined its queries to the broad scenarios set out in the legislation that would trigger the conservation law.

But because of the environmental impacts detailed by the NCC, the board members made a decision to refer the application to the NCC, ignoring the submissions that were there, in print, before them.

The CPA had previously rejected this particular application on the basis that the site was not suitable for apartments. The board had concluded that it would not be in keeping with the “character of the area in terms of mass, scale and intensity of use and this will detract from the ability of surrounding land owners from enjoying the amenity of their properties”.

Since then, however, the CPA has given planning permission for other apartment projects not far away in Batabano, which may undermine its previous position. The minutes did not outline the CPA’s thinking on other elements of the application, only its position on the conservation act. In the minutes, the members stated why they were referring the matter to the NCC, but did not explain why this was necessary, given that they already had all the necessary information to comply with the Conservation Act.

The CPA said, “Prior to a full review under the Development and Planning Act (2021 Revision), the Development Plan 1997 and the Development and Planning Regulations (Rev2022), the Authority reviewed the DoE’s response to DPA s7 consultation and determined that, as part its consideration of Section 41 of the National Conservation Act (2014) (NCA), it would review with the applicant the list of definitions of adverse effects in Section 2 (a-l) of the NCA. After doing so, it was resolved to adjourn the application and refer the matter to the National Conservation Council pursuant to Section 41(3) of the NCA as there may be potential adverse effects per s2(b) and (d).”

Although, those adverse effects have already been noted in the exiting submissions, the case has nevertheless been adjourned without a decision.

At least four neighbouring landowners have objected to the project. Several other people who have also objected cannot do so formally because they are outside the limited radius allowed, even though it could impact flooding in a much wider area than the 1000ft objection zone. However, none of the objections will be taken into consideration at this point but will be reviewed when the project returns for another hearing.

During the hearing, the CPA also said that it could not consider the accumulative flooding problems likely to occur in this area now as a result of other nearby developments.

There is no sign of any changes to the planning law to address the myriad problems development currently poses to the terrestrial and marine environment, such as an increase in flooding risks as swamp land is developed for profit, the loss of the eco-services provided by the wetlands, over-development on the coastlines, the clearing of primary habitat, the massive loss of diversity and the socioeconomic impacts.

Meanwhile, although these impact affect everyone, the law severely limits who can formally object. This is another issue that environmental activists believe the government should consider when, or if, it actually begins to modernise planning legislation to work towards a sustainable future.

See the relevant minutes in the CNS Library.


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