Local housing providers are “desperate” to build more homes, but the Government is not giving them the guarantees they need to start planning, the former Housing Minister has said.
Senator Sam Mézec’s comments come after the publication of the Homelessness Strategy, which recommended strengthening the role, and supply of, social housing to ensure it is able to meet the island's needs.
Produced by the Jersey Homelessness Strategic Board, the document outlines seven other key priorities to tackle homelessness in the island, including the creation of a permanent emergency housing team.
According to the strategy, planning policies that encourage the “development and availability of affordable housing” should be introduced to increase supply.
Pictured: The Government should give housing providers guarantees over which sites they will be able to use, Senator Mézec said.
But Senator Mézec says the Government also has a part to play.
"When I was speaking to providers, Andium and other housing trusts, they were often desperate to provide more homes,” he told Express.
“A lot of them believe they have the capacity to do more and have access to finances to fund building more homes. To do that, they need the guarantee of whether or not they will be given, or be able to buy a bit of land, to build on.
“There is a lot of uncertainty around that - the Government have a lot of sites they own and want to get rid of. They do not give the guarantees to Social Housing providers quickly enough or sometimes they allow them to believe that they might get hold of the land, so the housing providers spend time and money investigating what can be done to then be told, ‘We are not going to give it to you.'
“Le Bas Centre is a good example of that. Various providers would love to get hold of the site, but the property management is not giving them the guarantee. They need that guarantee a few years in advance so that they can plan.”
Pictured: The Future Hospital and OneGov 'Office Modernisation Project' have also caused delays, as various sites were being kept off the list of potential housing sites in case they were needed.
In addition, the Future Hospital and Government office project have also caused delays as various sites were being kept off the list of potential housing sites in case they were needed.
“St. Saviour’s Hospital is a good example,” Senator Mézec said. “It’s a great location for housing - we could have a really nice mixed development there, but for a long time we could not get guarantees on it because it might have been used as an hospital."
Several other sites are currently lying empty or falling apart while housing providers are desperate to get on the site, including Westaway Court, a block of flats near the Parade, he added.
“It’s quite a big site and there are quite a few flats. It used to be for key worker accommodation but they have now moved to another site and it’s laying empty.
“It’s a great location for social housing but we were not sure if it was going to be needed for the hospital. Now we have a building laying empty which is not good for anyone.”
Pictured: “We desperately need to improve our property management system," Senator Mézec said.
“We desperately need to improve our property management system and politicians themselves need to take greater leadership on what sites are used and what for,” Senator Mézec argued.
“When there is such a need for housing, let’s just get rid of some sites.
“Philip Le Feuvre House on La Motte will be empty at some point in the next few years, why can’t we say it will go to housing now and give housing providers the guarantees they need so that they can start working and then, once they get the site, they can put their application through.
“Housing providers are willing to do this. The problem is not on their end, it’s on the Government’s end and that must be frustrating.”
According to the former Housing Minister, the issue stems from “a lack of proper leadership." Despite making it clear on several occasions he was open to more sites being used for housing, he was not able to move things forward.
While Andium Homes were getting to work on Limes House, Senator Mézec said he heard a rumour the site would be used for a school. He said he then had to intervene and “fight fire” to make sure it remained a site for accommodation.
“If it was just going to housing, I should not have had to fight like this,” he said.
Pictured: The Ann Court development was delayed by the Chief Minister's wishes to review it as a potential site for the Government's headquarters.
Ann Court is another example. As Andium was getting ready to start work on their £30 million plans to build 165 homes, the Chief Minister said he wanted to review whether the site would be suitable for the Government’s headquarters.
“Politics come into this - people get distracted with other ideas when we just need to make a decision and say, ‘Get on with it.' If further down the line, someone else gets another idea for the site, tough luck,” Senator Mézec said.
“It was never down to one politician - the Infrastructure Minister might have a say in it, the Environment Minister might have a say in it, and then the Deputy Chief Minister in charge of the hospital project had a say as well,” he added.
“It is spread over so many people, it makes it impossible to get an agreement quickly. And, even if you get a consensus, someone might then come and say something else.
“Ministers are not elected as a party, so they have no duty to support the policies of other Ministers. It was something that was important to me, but all it took was five Ministers to not consider it important and I lost.”
Pictured: “It’s not just housing that takes time, it’s everything else."
Getting rid of Government sites would help preserve green sites, according to the Senator. Unfortunately, he feels that most people in Government “don’t want to rock the boat."
“When it came to the hospital, I was saying a year ago, ‘We just need to agree to build the hospital at Overdale, everything else would be able to move quicker.'
“But others were saying, ‘We have this process to go through, we still need to do this,’ when it was obvious it would go to Overdale. We wasted a lot of time because Ministers were too scared to make a decision and be held accountable for it.”
The issues, however, are just one symptom of “a broken government system”, according to the former Minister, who left his post to support a vote of no-confidence against the Chief Minister.
“It’s not just housing that takes time, it’s everything else: finding a site for the hospital, agreeing on a policy and sticking with it,” he said.
“The system is particularly bad for that and it’s the people of Jersey who pay the price for that. If we had a better government, we would be able to streamline that and get better value for money.”
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