Beach access controversy continues in the Cayman Islands

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Conflicting signs in the Cayman Islands between public beach access and a purported "private beach"

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (CNS) — A newly formed Public Lands Commission in the Cayman Islands has begun rolling out beach access signs across Grand Cayman as part of efforts to address issues concerning beach access. This includes owners of oceanfront homes continuing to deter the public from using beaches in front of their property.

Local activist groups are nevertheless still trying to get the issue addressed in court, especially because increasing coastal development is making it harder for residents to enjoy the Cayman Islands’ beautiful beaches.

The government has repeatedly promised to address the issues of access, but many activists still believe the issue is not being tackled and owners continue to chase away local people attempting to get to the beach, because what belongs to landowners and what is public remains confusing.

A group of concerned citizens who have been pressing government for more than 15 years to register beach access points are still battling to get the case heard in court, even though they say it is within the remit of the attorney general to get the easements and rights of way registered.

After a long battle, the group has secured some legal aid funding, though not enough to cover the cost of bringing the case, which they say is a public interest case and should therefore be paid for by the public purse.

While the land commission has begun rolling out the signs, the message is not always getting through.

During the last sitting of Finance Committee, members voted to set aside $10 million to buy land, which will include beachfront properties and beach access pathways for public use. Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, the minister responsible for lands, said she was anxious to see public beach property in all of the districts to ensure all residents are able to enjoy the beach.

According to guidelines published by the Department of Tourism for condo and hotel owners, the public has a right to use any part of any beach in the Cayman Islands for recreation, even above the mean high-water mark.

“Such a public right is one of a group of rights which members of the public enjoy, even over private land, in the Cayman Islands. It is a right which the law presumes to have existed for many years and which members of the public have acquired under the Prescription Law,” the DoT stated in an appendix to its accommodation inspection guide.

The public has no right to use owners’ beach furniture but they cannot be prevented from using the beach or passing to and fro along the beach, even where the beach they use is on private land.

The emergence of another sign on Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman caused a recent stir on Facebook as local residents pointed out that the beaches are not private.

In February this year, government published a report about beach accesses all around the islands and discovered a catalogue of problems, such as a lack of signs to indicate the public rights of way, and gated and blocked pathways.

Republished with permission of Cayman News Service

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