Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Waterfront: Why Scrutiny is Needed

 Following on from yesterday’s blog, two more letters that are worth reproducing from the JEP.

The first, from Roger Bale, highlights one of the main problems I have with the scheme – the total lack of any detailed information, any figures or timetable. The few figures which do get bandied about are to do with the return to the States of £50 million, and yet back in 2008, Senator Philip Ozouf stated:

“Let’s not forget, it will also directly provide 400 much-needed homes for Island families as well as £75 million to regenerate town. The plan will provide wonderful public spaces, including a winter garden.”

And Alan Maclean himself was also gushing about those homes:

“The proposed office space equates to about four years’ demand. It includes 400 apartments and the money raised will be ploughed back into regenerating St Helier.”

The homes have gone, and so it seems has £25 million of the return, and the winter garden.

And in 2008, Ian Le Marquand mentioned another cost: “The sinking of the main road is estimated to cost £45 million, which is a lot of money.”.

The second letter, from Richard Whatmore, also illustrates how far the States have moved from the original scheme which was approved. If I have a development passed by Planning, and I wish to change it substantially, I cannot just go ahead and do this on the basis that the original plans had been passed. But this does seem exactly what has happened with the Waterfront. What is now proposed bears only the faintest resemblance to the Hopkin’s Masterplan, and yet on the basis of the original approval of that, the scheme is going ahead!

Letter from Roger Bale

In the real world, where investors can lose money, the factors taken into consideration with regard to the Esplanade Finance Centre would be as follows:

Cost: No detailed projections for cost of construction have been seen by the States let alone the public for this project. Still to be quantified is the cost of removing contaminated soil from the site; remember the cancellation of the project. to dig trenches to commemorate the start of the First World War abandoned because of the contamination?

Return: No rent projections have yet been seen.

Demand: The finance industry is currently shrinking and there is no evidence that new entrants are unable to set up shop in Jersey because of lack of office space. There is a lot of office space currently available for rental. In fact, rentals are currently declining.

An established, well-funded property company (C Le Masurier Limited) have detailed planning permission for 280,000.sq ft of grade A commercial office space and a two-acre site which could be developed without disrupting existing parking arrangements and, importantly, without the involvement of taxpayers' money

With all these factors in mind, investors in the 'real' world would shelve the project until the market conditions improve.

However, the Jersey Development Company (JDC) does not live in the 'real' world. It can call upon a bottomless pit of taxpayers' money Neither Lee Henry nor Mark Boleat, the chief executives of JDC, have any money they can personally lose by the project going forward. In fact, the opposite. If the project does not go forward, questions will likely be asked as to why a reported £4 million has been spent and why such a large amount of this was spent off the Island.

Answers to these questions may well cost these gentlemen their current well-remunerated positions - witness the exasperation expressed by Mark Boleat (JEP 10 January) at yet, as he sees it, another inquiry into the project by a committee to be headed by Deputy John Le Fondre. The purpose of funds raised by taxation is not to do what the taxpaying private sector is able and willing to do for itself. The States must let the private sector take risks (and losses). The States will take 20% of all profit without risk.

Letter from Richard Whatmore.

I would like to strongly support Mr Keeping's letter (JEP 16 January) criticising the Jersey Development Company chairman's effective refusal to cooperate with the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel (JEP 10 January). The JDC should now be required to show how it intends to adhere to the 2008 Masterplan, how it will create the necessary underground car park and for how many cars, and if it will employ local suppliers.

Mike Waddington has quite correctly asked (JEP 7 January) for a `collaborative rethink' about the important future development of St Helier. Such a rethink could make a real difference to the future shape of our capital, but it will not be achieved with a JDC chairman who talks of 'irritation' and `.just playing Jersey politics'.

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