Monday, 11 June 2012

Plémont: A History of Failure

We have recognised that moral struggles are frequently between competing goods, rather than between a straight good and a straight evil. (Richard Holloway, Godless Morality)

In 2006, a proposition was brought by the Connétable of St. Ouen to decided whether or not it was in the public interest to preserve the headland at Plémont "as open space for the enjoyment of the public of the Island"

The proposition  also went on to "to request the Council of Ministers to consider all options to preserve the land described in paragraph (a), and to recommend a preferred option to the States with the least possible delay;(c ) to request the Minister for Planning and Environment to defer determination of any application relating to the redevelopment of this site pending States' consideration of the Council of Ministers' recommendation."

The debate of Plémont headland has a long history politically; it goes back at least six years, and it is a record of an inability of the States to find a solution. In October 2006, the States passed the proposition parts (a) and (b) by 36 votes in favour, 9 against, and 5 abstaining to:

( a ) agreed that it would be in the public interest for the headland at Plémont, as shown in Drawing Number 1505/06/101, namely the site formerly occupied by Plémont ('Pontin's') holiday village complex and surrounding associated land, to be preserved as open space for the enjoyment of the public of the Island;
( b ) requested the Council of Ministers to consider all options to preserve the land described in paragraph (a), and to recommend a preferred option to the States with the least possible delay

The National Trust at the time also collected 10,000 signatures in favour of the motion, and speaking to Jo Sargent in Geographical Magazine, in April 2007, the President of the National Trust of Jersey, Mike Stentiford, stated what he wanted to see happen:

What are your main concerns for the coastline's future?

Plémont is our real concern. It's a dramatic headland on Jersey's northwest coast and is the gateway to 22 kilometres of north coast footpaths.
Unfortunately, it's blighted by an empty, abandoned, dilapidated eyesore that, in the heady days of popular tourism, functioned as the Plémont
Holiday Camp. Developers now want to dismantle this awful building, which is good news, but then to replace it with 34 expensive houses and gardens, which is really bad news. Apart from the wild beauty of this part of the coast, the proposed building development would be within a stone's throw of the UK's most southerly colony of Atlantic puffins.

What are you doing to protect it?

In September last year, the National Trust for Jersey launched a petition against any development at Plémont. It was launched online, with full-page advertisements in the local press and volunteers collecting signatures in local supermarkets. It proved to be remarkably successful, and we collected more than 10,000 signatures in just four weeks. The trust believes that if development is granted, Jersey's environmental integrity--or indeed the lack of it--would be seriously questioned. We're asking that the site be purchased by the States of Jersey, returned to its natural wild state and left in its entirety to the people of Jersey. If this happens, the trust and its lands team will happily take on the responsibility of caring for and managing the entire headland for the benefit of future generations. The petition has been given to our chief minister in the States of Jersey and we're currently awaiting a decision from local government.

This was the States under its first Ministerial government, under the leadership of Senator Frank Walker, and in 2008, Senator Len Norman decided to ask Frank Walker what had happened - after all, it was getting on for two years since the matter was raised. The reply was a masterpiece of prevarication:

4.3 Senator L. Norman: Might I remind the Chief Minister again of the proposition to the Constable of St. Ouen which was adopted by the States in 2006 which requested the Council of Ministers to consider all options to preserve the headland at Plémont and to recommend a preferred option to the States within the least possible delay?  Now that 2 years have past I wonder if the Chief Minister and the Minister for Planning and Environment have sorted out who is taking responsibility for this and when we might receive the preferred option?

Senator F.H. Walker: It is not, sadly, as simple an issue as the Senator would suggest and discussions have been taking place between me and the Minister for Planning and Environment and indeed the Constable of St. Ouen in recent weeks, but there are legal considerations which have yet to be fully resolved.  But I would hope some information and perhaps even a proposition would be coming to the States in the not too distant future.

4.3.1 Senator L. Norman: I am pleased to hear that discussions have taken place between the Ministers.  I wonder during the 2 years since the proposition was adopted by the States, have any discussions taken place with the owners of the land?

Senator F.H. Walker: I have not had discussions with the owners of the land and nor would it be appropriate for me to do so.

In 2009, the Senator Frank Walker's "not too distant future" had still not arrived. Deputy Roy Le Hérissier was on the case on what were now termed "active negotiations", but unfortunately Deputy Le Fondré was not the right person to ask, and Senator Philip Ozouf was not available to answer:

3.2.3 Deputy R.G. Le Hérissier: In terms of the Assistant Minister's definition of active negotiations will he say when the first approach was made after the Constable of St. Ouen's proposition was approved on 22nd October 2008?  When was the active part of the negotiations initiated?

Deputy J.A.N. Le Fondré: I am just trying to look at a reference.  I believe there was a meeting in early January and it was subsequent to that, that further correspondence was received in, I will say, April or May to be general which has then resulted in the further meeting that is being planned.

3.2.4 Deputy R.G. Le Hérissier: Just a final question.  Would the Assistant Minister comment on a proposal that has been made to the Minister for Treasury and Resources as a way of perhaps dealing with the kind of concern implicit in Deputy Martin's question?  Would he comment on a proposal that has been made for the use, for example, of dormant bank account monies as one of the approaches to this particular project?

Deputy J.A.N. Le Fondré: Unfortunately, I cannot comment because I am purely responsible for property and that is definitely a matter for the Minister.

In January 2010, by a narrow margin, the States voted against buying an area of Plémont headland to return it to nature. They rejected by 23 votes to 19 the Constable of St Ouen's proposition that the former Pontin's Holiday Camp site should be bought by the public of the Island.  Some of the debate was hidden - not for the first time with the States - from the public, as the States decided to go "in camera" for the discussion to continue with further information on cost.

As the JEP reported:

Members chose to vote on whether the States should enter into negotiations to buy the site at all, even though another option was the use of compulsory purchase powers and a large part of the debate was centred on this issue. After rejecting the idea that the States should buy the site, they did not, therefore, need to vote on whether compulsory purchase powers should be used.

Around the same time in January 2010, a working group was also being set up to look at the future of Fort Regent, another long running saga still without conclusion!

In January 2012, the JEP reported on yet another delay in the whole saga of Plémont:

PLANS for a major public inquiry into the development of one of Jersey's most treasured beauty spots may be scuppered. The architects have withdrawn and resubmitted the 2011 plans to build 28 homes on the site of the former holiday village at Plémont after a border dispute with Planning.  But the fact that the plans are new has 'reset' the whole Planning process. That means that the previous decision by the then Environment Minister, Freddie Cohen, to submit the application to a public inquiry for review has lapsed, and the new minister, Deputy Rob Duhamel, will have to make a decision on whether to hold an inquiry. Trust president Celia Jeune said that they wanted help to buy the site to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

The latest move by Philip Bailhache brings the proposals up to date. The Jersey Evening Post reports that two years after the last attempt to save the area from development and return it to nature was narrowly defeated in the States, the Senator is preparing a fresh move:

With a Planning application for a 28-home development on the site heading for a public inquiry, Senator Bailhache's plan could be the final chance to preserve one of Jersey's most beautiful natural areas. Senator Bailhache has confirmed that he is in the early stages of preparing the proposition.

The composition of the States has altered considerably since the last vote. But the arguments for and against probably have not changed much, except the economic situation has worsened. It is perhaps not quite as black as noted in Senator Ferguson's speech, when she alluded to 2012, but the deepening global crisis still make the points she made then as pertinent now:

Senator S.C. Ferguson: Like other speakers, I am sympathetic to preserving the coastline.  After all, I did bring the proposition regarding Warren Farm to the States.  But the main problem with this is funding.  But the other problem is that by virtue of the rules voted on by this Assembly the developer is entitled to expect that he can develop.  Members have commented that the House has general powers to countermand decisions of Planning.  This is not so and the details for those who are interested are in the Planning Law.

The Chief Minister has commented on our previous experiences going into various land propositions.  He mentioned Lesquende.  I would add Les Pas, where the States made a real mess of a planning application in 1989, 1990 or thereabouts and it took us something like 14 years to finish it.  What are the facts?  As has been said in this House before, we are where we are. There is an offer to preserve some two-thirds as public land.  This appears to be in the public domain and presumably would be difficult to rescind. Without prejudice to any negotiations we therefore have a publicly announced gift of about two-thirds of the land.  I think that also must be factored into the discussions.

We have the saving line - holding line - that the quality and limits to any future building being controlled by the Minister for Planning and Environment.  There will be people who will talk piously of the cost of everything and the value of nothing, but I think we have to be practical.

In 2012 we will have a structural deficit.  Members will have noticed the lugubrious comments of the Minister for Treasury and Resources from time to time saying that we shall have difficult decisions.  Like other Members, I read the financial press, I look at economic forecasts and the economies are not yet out of the woods.  I do not know the scale of the structural deficit, but I suspect from the lugubrious comments that it will be chunky. It is a time of prudence.

Members are waxing lyrical about returning the whole site to nature.  Well, I go back to it, where will the money come from?  Will the Minister for E.S.C. (Education, Sport and Culture) be contributing from his budget?  It also seems to me that this particular proposition is applying the nuclear option at too early a stage in negotiations.  It is a basic law of successful negotiation that both sides should be not quite satisfied.  It is a question of balance.  If both sides have not quite got everything they want then that is a successful negotiation.

A parliament blunderbuss at this stage is totally unhelpful.  We cannot tie the hands of any negotiators.  This, for example - a compulsory purchase proposition - would rule out the other sorts of possibilities like a land swap.  Haut de la Garenne?  Possible.  I am sorry, if we agree to a compulsory purchase no other ideas will be able to be considered.  I will not be supporting this proposition.

What we have in the debate about Plémont is a debate about conflicting values, where there is no right or wrong answer, and no calculus of decision making which will make the situation easy. That is probably why it has been the subject of endless delays, meetings, active discussions, and all the paraphernalia of failure - what politicians are good at, like Jim Hacker in Yes Minister - "lots of activity but no actual achievement". One way or another, we do need a decision to be made - and acted upon - rather than substitutes for action which we have seen so often over the last 6 years. If I can end with another quote from Richard Holloway:

In life we are in the business of making trade-offs between conflicting goods and evils, and there is no infallible measuring system for weighing these values against each other. That is why we often reach situations where further reflective deliberation gets us no further and we have no choice but to act.  I am reminded of Denis Healey's statement that in politics one never reaches conclusions, but one must make decisions.


Alane said...

I hope Jersey buys it! You need a little pristine island left and future generations will thank you for it!

Anonymous said...

Pace Senator Ferguson, the issue is not now and never has been about funding.

It is in part about the fact that a person may buy land in the hope that planning permission may be given to develop it. They may then demand an inflated price for that land, even if there shouldn't be a hope in hell that the development is approved (as at Plemont).

More than that, it is because the States is institutionally paralysed. Its membership is entirely unable to frame a coherent vision for what is best for the island of Jersey and all of its residents because the majority are in it to get what's best for themselves and to hell with the rest. Failed State sums it up pretty succinctly.

TonyTheProf said...

Senator Ferguson did address this issue:

10.1.23 Deputy S.C. Ferguson:

Members will remember in the Warren Farm debate that Noirmont was sold to the States at a price lower than that offered by a developer and this was done in the best interests of the Island by the owners of Noirmont at the time, the Seigneur of Noirmont Manor. Sadly, this issue that we are discussing underlines why the public are disillusioned with our 1(1)(k)s who are developers by trade. I will not say that development is a profession. The fashion, as I have said at the hustings, among modern millionaires is to buy land to set aside for conservation. It is a great pity that Jersey is so far behind the fashions. I am concerned, as are other Members, that passing this proposition gives the current owners the incentive to think that they can get an inflated price from the States. I may support the proposition but I give the owners due warning that any sort of inflated price for this piece of land I will oppose.

Anonymous said...

SSTAG wonders how many of these people concerned for the well being of Jersey countryside will be equally concerned for the welfare of the Jersey working and non working population?
Shall Sir Philip and his supporters be so generous towards income support payments and will they be attending the SSTAG public meeting at the Eastern Good Companions Club on Thursday 14 June from 3pm to express their support etc?