In a ruling released 23 August 2022, the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands confirmed that the National Conservation Council (NCC) is legally able to direct government bodies in circumstances where actions could negatively impact designated protected areas or the critical habitat of protected species.
The National Conservation Council understands there are questions in the community about what the recent judicial review ruling means for physical development within our islands.
Here are five important things to be aware of regarding the recent ruling:
1. The ruling does not give the NCC any new powers.
Since the National Conservation Act was passed unanimously by Parliament in 2013, the NCC has always been able to direct government entities to refuse a proposal that could have a negative impact on a designated protected area or the critical habitat of a protected species. What the ruling has clarified is that government entities, including the Central Planning Authority (CPA), that choose not to follow those directions, are acting unlawfully.
2. The ruling does not give NCC unlimited powers.
The NCC may only direct conditions of approval or refusal in very limited circumstances – when the proposal could have a negative impact on a designated protected area or the critical habitat of a protected species. The vast majority of planning applications do not fall into this category: in these cases, the NCC provides recommendations to the Central Planning Authority (CPA) which are non-binding. It is important to remember that there are many environmentally sensitive areas that have not been designated by Cabinet as protected areas under the NCA.
3. The ruling does not add any new delays or deterrents to the planning process.
The ruling does not change the planning review process or add any new delays or deterrents; the NCC operates under the same time-constraints (normally a three-week turn-around period) as all other government entities which provide input to the CPA and their decisions. The NCC has reviewed 3,094 planning applications since it was established under law in 2016.
4. The NCC has only directed refusal for seven applications since 2016.
Of the 4,339 applications that the NCC has reviewed since 2016, the NCC has directed conditions of approval for just 106 applications, representing 2.4% of all applications reviewed. The number of times that the NCC has directed refusal for a planning application is even lower: the NCC has directed refusal just nine times for seven applications. This represents 0.21% – less than a quarter of 1% – of all applications reviewed. In all of these cases the applications involved adverse impacts on protected areas or the critical habitat of protected species. To put it another way, this means that 99.79% of all applications have NOT been directed refusal.
5. The NCC exists under law to safeguard protected areas and critical species habitats.
The NCC has a clear legal mandate which has existed since the National Conservation Act was unanimously passed in 2013. The NCC exists to exercise the powers and carry out the duties imposed on it under the Act and generally serves to promote the conservation, preservation and sustainable use of Cayman’s natural resources and biological diversity. The NCC has always been fully transparent, accountable and is constituted under the Act to include technical experts and representation from each of the six districts. If you are interested in seeing the NCC in action, we livestream our General Meetings every quarter.