Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Holding Landowners to Ransom

Shark circling Treasure Chest

Bailiwick Express reports that:

“Chartered surveyor Julian Mallinson says he was forced to pay thousands to the States after trying to sell his Greve d’Azette-based Brise de Mer apartments – £3,000 of which related to a set of just eight steps which were approved by Her Majesty’s land administrator while the Foreshore was still in Crown ownership.”

It cannot be right that something was approved by Her Majesty’s land administrator while the Foreshore was still in Crown ownership, and then Jersey Property Holdings apparently just make up the rules to suit themselves and ignore the past history of a property, even when the Crown approved the steps.

The various claims being made here and with owners along the Foreshore may be legally right, but what they are doing is quite immoral. Moreoever, they seem to be targeting people trying to sell their properties, in other words, those owners at their most vulnerable. They can hold them to ransom, knowing that a seller is more likely to cave into demands.

Morally, although not legally (or at least not tested in Court), it has all the hallmarks of blackmailers charter for coining money.

Apparently, according to Bailiwick Express:

“A spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), who has responsibility for the matter, defended their decision to review encroachments on the recently-acquired land, stating: “There is a need to protect the Public’s interest as a landowner, and other encroachments are regularly dealt with on a case by case basis.”

This isn’t good enough. An anonymous civil servant should not be the one making these statements. The responsibility lies with the Minister, and he should not hide behind an anonymous spokesperson.

Unfortunately the States has vanished off for the summer recess, but I hope some politician asks some very awkward questions.

Bailiwick Express also has revealed that:

“.. contracts settled so far have not provided protection against the future purchasers of those properties, meaning that the cycle of coastal payments could continue in perpetuity.”

Blackmailers, of course, take a payment and then return to the victim for more.

“Those payments only constitute a transfer of a right to maintain the status quo – not ownership or the ability to build or develop the land in future. Contracts viewed by Express also showed that the owners could at any time be given two weeks’ notice to carry out works on the sea wall, steps leading from it or the land behind it - all of which at their expense and “to the entire satisfaction of the Minister for Infrastructure.”

We urgently need clarity on this. The Minister needs to provide clarity and not leave sellers and buyers in a legal limbo.

St Clement Deputy Simon Brée seems to be the only States member speaking out strongly on the subject.

“I am very concerned of the actions of the Department. The Government of Jersey must understand that they govern on behalf of and for the Public of Jersey. This approach to things does nobody any good and people start to question the integrity of the department that are doing this. It’s absolutely atrocious... I can’t see any other reason than they are purely looking at every opportunity to raise money from the public and this is a form of very heavy handed sledgehammered crack and nut approach. Why are they doing it? If it is not purely to raise money, then why are they doing it?”

He added: “The Crown would not have gifted that land to the Public of the Island of Jersey solely as a revenue-raising measure. It is madness in its extreme.”

There was a Freedom of Information request on 1 April 2016, which among other questions, asked:

How many foreshore encroachments have been pursued since the gifting of the foreshore to the people of Jersey?

Can you please detail all the encroachments pursued and the settlements made, financial or otherwise?

What has been the defined financial settlement or the method of calculating that encroachment that has been decided by the minister responsible?

The only reply was

“It is not possible to identify without legal knowledge and substantial effort, a list of cases which might be deemed to be about ‘encroachments’ as used in the request.”

This is the typical runaround which one gets from a lot of FOE requests, and is the sort of evasive answer which also happens when States members ask Ministers questions. It is extremely unhelpful. Even with rates, the Parish websites give an indication of the methodology of calculating a rate. Taxation is done with precision. Here we have nothing. It could be calculations scribbled on the back of a beer mat, for all we know.

That there is no reply forthcoming here suggest an “ad hoc” method of calculation, probably looking at property values, and how much owners can afford to cough up.

When the land was gifted from the Crown to the States, the Royal Central website said:

Representatives of Her Majesty on the island commented that she felt it was time to “support the interests and aspirations” of islanders.
Clearly in the case of Jersey Property Holdings, the aspiration is to claw as much money as they can.

It was said at the time: “The government of Jersey has expressed a view that ownership of the seabed and foreshore would assist effective management and economic development, particularly in the area of renewable energy projects.”

Any of those in the pipeline yet?

The only "renewable" so far seems to be the possibility that JPL might go back to new owners and demand more money.

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