Monday 20 May 2024
Select a region
News

Ministers' unity questioned as CM speaks against colleague's £120m decision

Ministers' unity questioned as CM speaks against colleague's £120m decision

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Ministers' unity questioned as CM speaks against colleague's £120m decision

Tuesday 24 October 2023


The Chief Minister has taken the extraordinary step of publicly expressing her extreme disappointment in her Assistant Minister's decision to throw out a £120m town regeneration plan – leading to questions over how unified Ministers really are.

Yesterday, news broke that Assistant Environment Minister Hilary Jeune had rejected an appeal by property company Le Masurier for its ‘Les Sablons’ project, to build 238 flats and a 103-bed ‘aparthotel’ on 2.5 acres of mostly cleared land between Broad Street and Commercial Street.

Deputy Jeune made the decision – which went against the recommendation of an independent planning inspector – because Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf was conflicted on a technical point.

"I am extremely disappointed"

The decision prompted Chief Minister Kristina Moore to release a statement late yesterday afternoon which said: “I am extremely disappointed to learn that the Les Sablons project has been rejected at this stage, particularly given that it has been recommended for approval by an independent planning inspector. 

“This is an important development for St Helier and the Island, improving an area of our town and providing hundreds of much needed homes. Such decisions will not help us to enhance our urban environment, alleviate the housing crisis or support the construction industry at a difficult time – all important priorities for the Government."

CM_Kristina_Moore.jpg

Pictured: Chief Minister Kristina Moore: "I am extremely disappointed to learn that the Les Sablons project has been rejected at this stage".

She continued: “The planning application process is set out in the Planning and Building Law, and it is not legally possible for the Chief Minister to intervene in that process or to alter decisions that are made, but the applicant can continue to follow the process of appeal and review.

“Looking forward, I am focused on ensuring that the Government works together to support our collective policy objectives and assist Islanders with the challenges we face as a community.”

"How much is this Government talking to each other?"

Past Environment Ministers have criticised Deputy Moore’s comments.

Deputy Steve Luce, who held the title between 2014-2018, said: “I cannot remember a Chief Minister ever commenting before on a planning application in this way. It begs the question, how much is this Government talking to each other?

“The Assistant Minister presumably took advice and reached a conclusion. It is unusual for a minister outside of that process to be overly vocal because the policies of the Bridging Island Plan have been agreed by all States Members, albeit supplementary planning guidance is set by the Environment Minister.

Steve Luce JEP.jpg

Pictured: Deputy Steve Luce: "I was surprised and disappointed that the Chief Minister chose to make her comments".

“I was surprised and disappointed that the Chief Minister chose to make her comments – it does not seem that this Council is very aligned. 

“The Chief Minister needs to remember that the Island Plan is agreed by all States Members and then the Planning Committee, planning officers and the relevant ministers interpret those policies.”

However, Deputy Luce, who as a member of the Planning Committee had rejected the application after voicing concerns about the quality of its proposed Broad Street frontage, said that Deputy Jeune's decision had also raised some questions.

“In her reasons for refusal, the Assistant Minister refers at least twice to the supplementary planning guidance that was issued in July ['St Helier design guidance'], and the inspector’s main report was dated July.

“Which raises the question, did the inspector make his decision on a different set of rules to the Assistant Minister?

“It is unprecedented, as far as I am aware, for a minister to introduce supplementary planning guidance during an appeal process and for that guidance to introduce such a critical point that it prompts the minister to go against the inspector’s recommendation.”

The last Environment Minister, John Young, was even more scathing of the Chief Minister’s intervention, although he stressed that he had only read media reports on the issue.

"John Le Fondré knew how to be loyal to his colleagues"

He said: “It is outrageous and deplorable for the Chief Minister to undermine a fellow minister in this way. It never happened to me; certainly, I had colleagues who privately held reservations about some of my decisions but there was never a time when I was publicly undermined.

"[Former Chief Minister] John Le Fondré knew how to be loyal to his colleagues.

“The place for discussion is around the Council of Ministers’ table and not through the columns of the JEP.

“If I was Environment Minister now, I would be saying to my Council of Ministers’ colleagues: ‘do you or don’t you support the policies of the Bridging Island Plan?’”

John Young 850x500.jpg

Pictured: Former Environment Minister John Young said "John Le Fondré knew how to be loyal to his colleagues".

"I would like to thank the Chief Minister"

However, today, Le Masurier Managing Director Brian McCarthy, who yesterday had said that, for the company, disappointment was “an understatement”, welcomed the intervention.

He said: “I would like to thank the Chief Minister for her statement yesterday evening underpinning the fact that Les Sablons is an important development for St Helier and the island and that the development would meet a significant number of the Government's common strategic priorities such as housing, tourism, regeneration and place-making.

“Obviously, we would welcome any political intervention in an attempt to reverse the Assistant Environment Minister’s decision and the more you read through the Independent Inspector's report, the more you challenge the decision given his overwhelming recommendation for approval.”

Brian_McCarthy_Managing_Director_Le_Masurier_Ltd.jpg

Pictured: Le Masurier Managing Director Brian McCarthy: "I have had responses and messages from politicians and Ministers, the general public and industry leaders who are all appalled by the decision".

He added: “I have had responses and messages from politicians and Ministers, the general public and industry leaders who are all appalled by the decision to refuse Les Sablons.”

What happens next?

Mr Young said that, as far as he could tell, Le Masurier had no grounds to appeal to the Royal Court for review as that could only be done on a point of law. 

Mr McCarthy has already said that the company will not go down this route because of its cost.

Les Sablons birds eye 850x500.jpg

Pictured: The ‘Les Sablons’ project included plans for 238 flats and a 103-bed ‘aparthotel’ on 2.5 acres of land between Broad Street and Commercial Street.

Mr Young said that it would also be wrong for a States Member to bring a proposition to the Assembly seeking to overturn the Assistant Minister’s rejection.

“We can’t have this application going to the States Assembly because that would take us back to the days of every decision being made by the Assembly," he said.

“The law empowers the Minister to be the decision-maker and, if needs be, to go against the recommendation of an inspector, as long as they give their reasons.

“My expectation would be for the applicant to come back with a revised application.”

Time for a review of the law?

St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft, a supporter of the scheme who yesterday said that Deputy Jeune had shown her "inexperience”, said today that he had discovered that the States Assembly was "powerless to intervene in this matter", and “that was something that may have to change”.

For different reasons, Mr Young also called for a review of the law.

He said: “The Environment Minister has limited powers: he or she can call a planning inquiry, and they make a decision on appeal. There are no other circumstances in which the minister can get involved; it is in stark contrast to the Planning Committee, who are free agents.

“I do think it is time for the minister to review the Planning Law, but that will take time.”

READ MORE...

"Inexperience" criticism as Assistant Minister blocks £120m town revamp

INSIGHT: Years in the making, rejected in a moment... Where the multi-million Waterfront plan went wrong

REJECTED: Plans for multi-million Waterfront revamp

£120m town development 'unviable' if 15% of flats have to be affordable

Developer appeals rejection of £120m Broad Street transformation plan

£120m Broad Street revamp branded “banal and unimaginative”

Homes, apart-hotel, shops and restaurants in £120m town revamp plan

INSIGHT: Is an unofficial planning 'tax' pushing up the cost of housing?

LISTEN...

At the time the plans were launched, Express spoke to Mr McCarthy about the vision for Les Sablons and the wider regeneration of St. Helier...

Subscribe to Bailiwick Podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer or Whooshkaa.

Sign up to newsletter

 

Comments

Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

You have landed on the Bailiwick Express website, however it appears you are based in . Would you like to stay on the site, or visit the site?