The prevalence of large-scale cliff-front developments on the island has become a source of concern for Coastal Zone officials. And, they are again urging developers to conduct sound geo-technical investigations before applying for planning permission.
According to Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Dr. Leo Brewster, the department has, over the past 10 years, been observing, these types of development in which properties are becoming much larger than traditional residential properties or villas.
“Given the scale of the type of development that is occurring on the cliff tops now, we have more or less mandated that large-scale developments must carry geo-technical investigations as part of the process,” he said. He noted that this would involve looking at the overall integrity of the cliff and the rock that one is building on to determine whether it could handle construction of that magnitude.
“Despite what people may think, the cliffs themselves can have different layers of material within them, they are not all hard rock,” Dr. Brewster explained, adding: “They can have a hard rock cap and then a soft or very porous material inside and maybe a hard rock bottom or several different layers in between.”
Pointing out that they had been trying to encourage developers to carry out thorough geo-technical investigations, especially given some of the larger-scaled condos being planned, Dr. Brewster said in some instances their efforts had been futile.
“We have had some pretty poor geo-technical investigations being submitted in the past and we have actually had to reject them and ask developers to re-do them. Unfortunately, some are still of the opinion that if they scratch the top with a back hoe and it looks as though it is rock a couple of feet down below, then it is good enough to build on. That is not what we want,” he underscored.
Dr. Brewster stressed that instead what was necessary was for core samples to be conducted in different areas to ascertain the location of voids or potential caverns.
“You have to be able to show that the integrity of the rock is such that any excessive weight that is put on it is going to be actually borne by the cliff and won’t lead to additional fracturing either laterally across the cliff face to the edge, or horizontally along the actual frontage,” he explained.
This situation, Dr. Brewster added, is compounded by instances of cliff failure occurring along the island’s coasts.
“What we have also noticed is that over the last five to seven years there has been increasing cliff failure along the coastline. This is especially in St. Philip, the southern part of Christ Church and in the St. Lucy area – where large segments of the cliffs are just breaking off,” he explained.
The Coastal Zone official stressed that this was one of the reasons why, as part of any cliff top development, they normally recommended that setbacks be built from the undercut and not the cliff face or cliff edge because that was the piece which would fracture should the cliff fail.
Noting that most of the larger developers eventually “come around,” and do not pose too much of a problem, Dr. Brewster stressed that development permission or consideration for permission cannot be granted without the completion of such investigations. He stressed that these investigations were really in the developers’ and property owners’ best interests since they allowed them to identify upfront potential areas for additional costs.
The Coastal Zone head, however, took issue with the penchant by some developers to submit geo-technical investigations and then once they are approved, seek to do things which were not considered in the original application.
“There are people who try to get around the system by doing this, and we really will not tolerate this at all,” he said.
Dr. Brewster noted that as a condition of permission, officers from his Unit in collaboration with the Town and Country Planning Department usually conducted on-site assessments at the start of geo-technical work, as well as spot checks during the project’s duration and reviewed results once they came in.
“We also try to mandate that in instances where large-scale tourism developments are occurring inland on cliff tops, that these developers must do geo-technical investigations,” he concluded.