Monday, 8 June 2015

Protest and Survive

“Thousands lined the sides of a proposed new finance centre in St Helier in protest at its development.

The development on the Esplande Car Park, by government-owned Jersey Development Company, will consist of six buildings and a car park. A group including a festival organiser, a former politician and former journalist organised the protest. Treasury Minister, Senator Alan Maclean, has said campaigns against the project were costing the island money. There were up to 3,000 people at the protest from a range of ages and backgrounds.” BBC Radio Jersey

Sean Power said: "There was a lot of passion here, people felt they weren't being listened to and hopefully now they will sit up and pay attention."

I saw Sean cycling round, as a wave of “No, No” was chanted around the perimeter. I saw young people there, as well as old people hobbling on sticks or wheeled walking frames on this pleasant sunny day.

They paid tribute to the fact that a democracy has to allow protest if it is to survive, however much that might irk Senator Maclean.

Just along from me was Max De La Haye and his wife. Max was a former Constable of St Brelade. By no stretch of the imagination could he be described as “left wing”, and yet he had left his beloved dahlias to come here and sit on the old Esplanade wall, once the sea wall.

One thing that emerged from the “Yes Campaign” for the Referendum was that the Constables were a steadying influence in the States, a force for stability, and yet evidently Max has felt that the Council of Ministers has become so disconnected from the ordinary people that he turned out to protest.

And this BBC story also came out of late, another time when Constables are treated with disrespect:

“St John Constable Chris Taylor told the States Assembly yesterday that he and other members of the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel had refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement relating to a BNP Paribas appraisal of the viability of the development, following advice from the States Greffier.”

Who was responsible for this request, which showed complete contempt both for the long established principle of Parliamentary privilege, and also for the members of Scrutiny as individuals not to be trusted? Step forward Senator Alan Maclean,

The document has now been released, late in the day. Senator Maclean said that “I have made it clear that I would not release this document, which is commissioned by the States of Jersey Development Company, unless a non-disclosure agreement was signed by the panel, specifically because of the involvement of third parties.”

He has apparent also said that in future matters of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements in the States “must be clarified”.

He’s done a lot of clarifying recently, but the only thing it has clarified for me is how out of touch the Minister is with the electorate. Had he behaved like this in the run up to the election, it is unlikely that he would have achieved such a high number of votes.

The BBC report on the protest repeats what he said: "It is bad enough seeing front page articles talking about protests against the finance centre with thousands of people. That gets picked up internationally. What sort of impression does that give of this island as a whole? It does no good for any of us."

I have to say that what does no good internationally is a Minister who seems determined to bulldoze his way through obstacles, not refer matters back to the States, and imagines that he can “clarify” his way out of difficulties. It gives the impression to me of a Minister who does not listen, who does not refer his "clarifications" back to the States for proper approval, and who has scant regard for the ideals of representative democracy.

I'm sure that does not do the Island any good, but the remedy lies not with the protestors, but in Senator Maclean's hands. If instead of "clarifying" matters, he brought a proposition to the States to ratify the decision to build with only one pre-let, and with only so many square feet, he would at one stroke undercut the protest. Is he so scared that the States as a whole would not approve it?

It is perhaps not so surprising that Senator Maclean had problems with the promise that no work would start until 200,000 sq ft (18,581 sq m) had been let. He was, after all, responsible for just handing over £200,000 to a film company to make a film that never has been made, and in all likelihood will never be made. He never saw fit to bring that as a proposition to the States. Clearly bringing matters to the States does not sit well with his style of government.

And finally, a lot has been said about Senator Ozouf being mistaken, and yet this exchange in the States Assembly dates from the 9th December 2014, by which time Senator Maclean had risen to his current post. At no point does he contradict the assurances given by Senator Ozouf.

Deputy J.A. Hilton of the Minister for Treasury and Resources regarding the pre-letting of buildings on the Esplanade car park site:

In light of the indications by the previous Minister that the States of Jersey Development Company had to have substantial interest by companies in pre-letting the majority of the gross areas in the proposed Buildings 1 or 4 that were approved by the previous Minister for Planning and Environment, before proceeding to construction on the Esplanade car park site, can the Minister confirm that this is still the case?

Senator A.J.H. Maclean (The Minister for Treasury and Resources):

I am delighted to be able to say on this occasion to the Deputy, yes, I can.

The objective of the States of Jersey Development Company is to deliver projects in the most beneficial and risk-adverse manner. It was proposed, before committing to construction costs, the States of Jersey Development Company will have to secure a sufficient level of legally binding prelets to fund the cost of construction in the first phase of this scheme. Are there any in place and, if so, are they as per assurances given by the Minister for Treasury and Resources on 4th February 2014 in answer to a question to Deputy John Le Fondré where he spoke about pre-lets totalling 180,000 square feet?

Senator A.J.H. Maclean:

There are a number of interested parties for the building to which the Deputy is referring. I can say that of the total of 470,000 square feet that are available across the entire Esplanade Square development that there are expressions of interest - early stage some of them, I accept - of around about 370,000 square feet. There is significant interest in development on Esplanade Quarter and the Deputy would be, I am sure, interested - as indeed Members will be - to know that in the first quarter of next year we hope that the States of Jersey Development Company will be in a position to secure enough pre-lets, as per the undertaking contained within the M.O.U. (Memorandum of Understanding) that will allow development to progress.

And on the 24th February 2015 he states, again suggesting a high level of pre-lets:

“I might add that in an attempt to de-risk this development we have hamstrung, if I can put it that way, S.O.J.D.C. into undertaking its duties by putting conditions on it such as these pre-lets, which no normal commercial developer would undertake.”

That doesn’t sound like the small amount of space that’s recently been signed as a pre-let by the States of Jersey Development Company. It sounds far more like the original figure given by Senator Ozouf.

Perhaps Senator Maclean would like to “clarify” these answers? Did he too make a mistake?


Póló said...

Senator McLean:
"It is bad enough seeing front page articles talking about protests against the finance centre with thousands of people. That gets picked up internationally. What sort of impression does that give of this island as a whole? It does no good for any of us."

Shades of Frank Walker accusing Stuart Syvret of "shafting Jersey" on UK wide BBC Newsnight some years ago.

Plus ça change ...

Póló said...

Slightly off topic.

Is "Jersey Girl" still flying at Liberation House? I have an interest in the sculptor from one of his Dublin sculptures.