Archive for November 5th, 2014

Golf project still dependent on road talks

| 05/11/2014 | 41 Comments

(CNS): Just as government comes under fire for a number of controversial changes to the planning law the developers proposing a massive project that will change the face of East End and North Side, if it goes ahead, said they met with the premier and planning minister recently. The development of an 18 hole Arnold Palmer golf course amid a proposed mix use resort and town is dependent on a deal between government and the developer on the extension of the East-West Arterial road from Newlands to Frank Sound. Although progress on the matter was said to have been discussed no details of the talks have been released.

Government had announced in April of this year that it had reached a compromise with the National Trust over the gazetted route of the East-West arterial to avoid its land and in particular parts of the culturally and environmentally important Mastic Reserve and trail. This left government free to discuss the construction of the long planned road with the investors behind the proposed Ironwood development.

Although the previous 2005-2009 PPM government had constructed the East-West arterial from George Town out to Newlands, financial constraints and the lack of significant demand for its continuation, saw government shelve the next phase, indefinitely.

However, developers proposing the resort and golf course in Frank Sound have stated that their proposed development will not be viable without a new speedy highway to give access to what is on paper an extensive project. 

The developers are planning to invest an estimated $360 million into this resort and town centre have said they will finance the estimated $40million to build the road in the first instance and then recoup that cost from the public purse through the taxes, fees and duty it would have been obligated to pay over the life of the project.

Investors have said the project is not viable unless the road goes ahead and any finance deal between the Ironwood developers and government to begin the road will also be contingent, on the approval of the UK and the need for CIG to comply with the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility agreement. and its borrowing limitations.
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In September members of the Arnold Palmer Design Company (APDC) visited the site of theproposed golf course which is being held out as the centre of the development. Thad Layton, senior golf course architect and Vice President at the golf company met with Premier Alden McLaughlin and Kurt Tibbetts, the planning minister to discuss the progress on the access road agreement and plans for the Ironwood development in general.

In a release from Ironwood officials said that the “final sign off on the Public/Private Partnership Agreement will be the catalyst for commencement of not only the road extension but also for the Town Centre and the Arnold Palmer designed golf course.”

However no details of how that agreement is progressing have been made public yet.

Hopeful that the government will reach an agreement with the developers members of the Ironwood team also visited the proposed golf course location to understand “the unique characteristics of the site,” the designers said, before they break ground.

“We documented native rock formations, trees, and wetlands that will ultimately be incorporated into the final golf course design,”  Layton said.  “We couldn’t be more pleased with the property’s potential to yield a golf course of the highest quality.”

The developers said they are committed to preserving the existing areas of wildlife, woodland and natural features of the landscape which will form an important part of the overall project.
The plan is for a 600-acre development with US$360 million invested in a commercial, tourism and residential community. It will include a Town Centre and a sports training complex, as well as the 18-hole championship golf course and a vacation resort.

Following the passage of changes to the planning law last week it is not yet clear how much of those changes were fueled by the wants and needs of these and other developers currently talking to government about potential major developments in the eastern districts.

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Battle continues on controversial coastal project

| 05/11/2014 | 21 Comments

(CNS): Residents in South Sound continue to press on with their battle to put a halt to a controversial development in the community that they say not only endagers the environment but sets an unwelcome precedent that could see the local coastline at significant risk from uncontrolled development. Concerns grew this week over what many see as far reaching and dangerous changes to the planning laws that make it more difficult for stakeholders to object to development in their neighbourhoods. Although current applications are being treated under the old law, it is not clear how the amendments will impact those who are objecting to the CPA’s decision to allow RC Holdings to dump fill some 50ft out into the ocean along 2,000ft stetch of coastline.

The Planning Appeal Tribunal heard an application last week from action group Protect South Sound for leave to amend the grounds of appeal and to add fresh evidence. A decision is expect at the end of November. The hearing comes two years after the appeal on the Central Planning Authority’s decision was delayed, first when the tribunal was disbanded in early 2013 because of the general election and there was another delay in reinstating the tribunal after the current administration took office.

CNS contacted Protect South Sound for comment on the latest development but a spokesperson said that they were unable to speak about the current issues. However, they are continuing to do what they can to save their community’s coastline.

The major concern of the group was that the decision by the CPA to allow the reclamation of land by the developer was based on a legal error. Former chief surveyor, Alister Ayres, has said at the time that the planning permission in this case was granted as a result of incorrect interpretation of the land survey regulations.

Photographs posted on CNS last November showing the damage to the coastline following the CPA’s decision to allow the developer to reclaim land generated considerable debate. The thorny question that the tribunal will now need to deal with is how coastal boundaries can be fixed, and if they are, what that might mean for the future of Cayman’s already vulnerable coastline.

See related story on CNS:

South-Sound-damage-revealed

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Job hunters still struggling

| 05/11/2014 | 234 Comments

(CNS): As Cayman enjoys a significant increase in visitors and greater economic growth than expected, the issue of work for local people continues to be a major headache for government. Although the premier has described the current situation with the economy as "jobless growth", work permit figures have been steadily growing throughout 2014 and at the end of June this year there were 20,256 work-permit holders in Cayman, up from around 19,500 at the start of the year. Although those figures indicate that jobs are being created, frustrations among experienced and qualified local workers is at an all-time high as they continue to battle employers who are circumventing both the labour and immigration laws to recruit who they want from overseas rather than depending on the local workforce.

Over the last few weeks CNS has continued to hear of the trials and tribulations facing local workers as they try to compete in a labour market that increasingly seems stacked against them.

Real estate offices seeking clerks who can speak Russian and Mandarin, qualified locals being rejected even before interview, excessive barriers and administrative hurdles being thrown up during the application process, positions requiring decades of experience in specific areas while offering very low wages, and advertisements running in the press for posts that are held by permit holders, clearly tailored to exclude all but the overseas post holder, are just some of the latest examples.

With the phenomena of jobless growth seemingly only impacting local workers, the National Workforce Development Agency said a great deal of work is being done across the government designed to address the concerns that have been identified by job-seekers.

“In July 2014 Cabinet approved the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Employment (IMCE),” Dr Tasha Ebanks-Garcia, the deputy chief officer in the employment ministry, said when CNS asked how government planned to address the lack of compliance by so many employers to the local laws. She explained that work is currently underway to pull together a report that identifies the various problems people are encountering and what is fuelling unemployment.

“The broad purpose of this committee is to promote better collaboration between government agencies on matters related to the challenges of unemployment and to ensure a coordinated and holistic response to efforts at addressing the needs of the country in relation to unemployment,” she added.

The senior officer explained that the committee will produce a report that identifies how work being done by government is directly or indirectly addressing the issue and provide relevant baseline data to guide the way forward.

“This report will serve to guide the work that needs to be undertaken as we address the issue of unemployment from the perspective of a joined up government,” Dr Ebanks-Garcia told CNS.

Pointing to plans by the Home Affairs Ministry, in collaboration with other government departments, to transform the work permit system, she said the overall objective was to create a more efficient and effective system.

“This system will ensure a streamlined process for work permit applications which includes the opportunity for the Immigration Department and the NWDA to work even more closely than they are today," she said.

The goal is to try and prevent employers from evading compliance by manipulating the system. However, despite the efforts being made towards this, things are not happening quickly enough. Anecdotal stories of locals still losing their jobs while permits are granted, even when experienced Caymanians have applied, persist as government struggles to make an impact on bosses that have become accustomed to recruiting exactly who they like, regardless of the law.

Local activist Sandra Catron, who has been outspoken about the unemployment problem among able and willing Caymanians, is continuing to help local job-seekers mount the many hurdles they encounter in the job market. She believes there is considerable evidence that employers are continuing to flout the law with impunity.

“It remains extremely challenging to find placements for unemployed persons, despite the appearance of so many job vacancies in the newspapers,” she said. “Sadly, even qualified candidates are having a difficult time in this current environment. It does not help when employers are inflating the qualifications needed for a job to automatically eliminate most job applicants from even applying. I have seen some truly absurd requirements. I hope that the issue for fair recruiting practices can be seriously addressed.”

And she is not the only one who believes employers are deliberately avoiding their obligation to recruit locals before seeking permits. Comments on CNS, discussions on social media, calls to local talk shows and other public forums in Cayman make it clear that this is not an isolated problem faced by a small number of locals who are not prepared to put in the effort. This is much broader problem, and there are some sectors of the work force that are particularly hard-hit. Complaints from younger Caymanian job–seekers who are returning home after five years or more study overseas with academic and professional qualifications are simply not able to even get a foot in the door.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly last week, MLA Ezzard Miller said that Cayman did not have a jobless growth problem as it was not the presence or absence of jobs that was the issue but the lack of opportunity presented to locals to get those jobs.

“We have 20,000 jobs with no Caymanians in them,” he said. “What we need is to prepare Caymanians to get those 20,000 jobs and to ensure that the institutions are working and provide the opportunity that locals are clearly not getting now.”

Miller also pointed to the abnormal requests employers are getting away with when it comes to recruitment, as he said all of the institutions created by government to protect local workers were failing.

Finding work in tougher economic times for those with few skills, especially for poorly educated young men with no work experience, is always difficult, but the concern for the broader community is the mounting problems that local job-seekers with experience and qualifications face.

If the private sector continues to dodge the transition to using qualified and appropriate local workers over permit holders when government begins downsizing the civil services, the unemployment situation is going to get far worse. And as government implements systems designed to force employers to use suitable local workers, it still has to wrestle with its own dilemma of weighing work permit revenue against local unemployment.

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Patient catches chikungunya in Cayman capital

| 05/11/2014 | 14 Comments

(CNS): As the total number of confirmed chikungunya cases in the Cayman Islands climbs to 30, public health officials confirmed that a sixth local transmission has now occurred in a patient in George Town. Five results were received by the hospital this week from blood samples sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad. Just one was positive but it was also confirmed as a local transmission. There are a further 25 pending cases awaiting confirmation but with the ongoing an outbreak of the virus in Jamaica, Cayman is battling to contain the virus.

“The Public Health Department in collaboration with other agencies, such as MRCU, continue surveillance efforts for the identification of locally acquired cases. With only one positive case of local transmission since the week beginning 27 October to date, the containment measures are proving to be effective so far," said Dr Samuel Williams, Acting Medical Officer of Health.

So far in Cayman, 11 people living in George Town, four from Cayman Brac, seven in West Bay, five in Bodden Town, two people in Little Cayman and one in North Side have contracted the virus. With six people picking up the virus here via mosquito transmission, the rest acquired chikungunya overseas. Public Health said two contracted the virus in the Dominican Republic, three in Guyana, one in St Lucia, while 18 people have now got the sickness in Jamaica.

Chikungunya causes fever, severe joint pain, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. Officials urge anyone who may be experiencing these symptoms to immediately see a healthcare provider. They also remind the public to use mosquito repellent with DEET on the skin, and wear long sleeve shirts and pants when outside during times that mosquitoes bite, whether in the Cayman Islands or on travels.

As of 31 October 17,456 probable cases of chikungunya have been reported from 34 countries in the region. Further information can be obtained through www.hsa.ky. Regional updates can be accessed by visiting the CARPHA website on http://carpha.org/What-We-Do/Public-Health-Activities/Chikungunya.  In addition United States updates are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/geo/united-states.html

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