By staff writer
The National Conservation Council of the Cayman Islands (NCC) met last Wednesday, 24 November to discuss implementing successful planning approval policies that prioritise the national conservation of the Cayman Islands. Due to public uncertainty surrounding potential damages to marine protected areas with the introduction of overwater habitable bungalows, the Council reviewed their original draft policy, and a few amendments were made. The Department of Environment (DOE) also proposed two changes: that there be more importance placed on the National Tourism Policy and the Marine Park Regulations.
The appropriateness of overwater habitable structures has not yet been proven for the Cayman Islands – an issue that came to light following a private developer enquiring if an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would be necessary to approve planning for a structure consisting of 19 overwater bungalows on Little Cayman. Council considered waiving the EIAs, however, decided to reconsider the drafted Guidelines for Overwater Structures due to “uncertainty as to what can and will be developed in these destinations”, despite offering ‘’a possible area of further diversification’’ in Cayman’s tourism investments and, more specifically, luxury hotels.
Ways of compensating for lack of a development plan which were revisited from the NCC’s March 2021 meeting included one-off royalty payments for Crown land use, countered by the regulations of other jurisdictions such as Jamaica, where overwater bungalows in marine protected areas are strictly forbidden. A topic of particular interest was the call to action via The National Conservation Act (2013) for stakeholders to formulate a structured management plan when faced with requests for the building of overwater developments. Section 3 (9)(j) of the Act was especially recognised to remind the NCC of their overarching agenda of “promoting the adoption of guidelines by entities for the integration of conservation issues into their decision-making processes”.
In the interim, until a wider legislative framework has been agreed upon and management plans have been secured, The Ministry of Planning, Environment and Lands, the Department of Lands and Survey, the Department of Tourism, the Department of Planning and the DOE have agreed that first “the country needs to develop a policy/guidelines for this type of infrastructure to ensure that it is appropriately sited and regulated, minimises the impacts on the environment and delivers a positive visitor experience.”
The meeting concluded by ratifying the decision that, until the DOE have fulfilled the urgent need to prepare clear guidelines, and consult with the public and stakeholders, no overwater habitable structures are to be built in marine protected areas of the Cayman Islands. Policies regarding overwater bungalows are expected to involve a much more diligent review of planning applications, with focus put on remaining climate-resilient (aligned with the drafted Climate Change Policy, 2011), and honouring the National Planning Framework (2019) that calls for crucial ‘’Master Plans’’, so that Government know precisely how to handle these types of dwelling requests going forward.