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FOCUS: Does planning red tape stifle local innovation?

FOCUS: Does planning red tape stifle local innovation?

Thursday 01 February 2024

FOCUS: Does planning red tape stifle local innovation?

Thursday 01 February 2024


The owner of Jersey's first pop-up sauna and the islander behind the plans for a new indoor skatepark have spoken out about “outdated” and "administrative" processes in the planning system which “slow innovation” and “hinder well-intentioned initiatives”.

Natalie Mayer, who pushed forward the now-approved plans to convert St Ouen’s Methodist chapel into an indoor skatepark and cultural centre, shared on social media that she thinks the planning process is full of “bureaucratic box ticking”.

Days later, the owner of a local sauna company Cole McLean echoed her criticism, saying that the planning process was filled with "outdated box-ticking methods". 

This followed the rejection of his most recent application to secure a permanent place for his sauna after a series of hurdles stemming back several months.

“Bureaucratic box-ticking”

Natalie's skatepark application involved installing removable wooden ramps inside a long-disused church, which would also serve as a community space for creative workshops and activities. 

She explained that the “slow process” of “bureaucratic box-ticking” created challenges for her non-profit project. 

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Pictured: Plans to transform a Methodist chapel into an indoor skate park and cultural centre have been given the green light following an outpouring of public support.

Writing on social media, Natalie said: “We wish to emphasise that we’re super happy to gain permission, that the process took over 18 months (including seven months waiting for planning) and was very costly for a small charity.

She later told Express: "Whilst it’s understandable that Planning need a broad set of rules that can cover all eventualities, the result of this – currently being highlighted by all the small projects trying to raise the flag – is that it’s very hard for small projects to find the finances to overcome onerous hurdles, which are clearly designed to scrutinise even the biggest developers.

"Our safeguards have inadvertently become barriers to initiatives that our community needs and supports. This is a recipe for disaster if we don't rectify it.

"I hope a system can materialise where projects with a clear net-gain for society can be supported - whilst also maintaining rigour so that potentially destructive projects are thoroughly examined, as they should be.

"It would take some community engagement and progressive thinking, but it’s a very important topic if we want to improve our island."

“The whole system needs a revamp”

Sauna Society founder Cole had a planning application for his St Catherine's breakwater business refused this month, following a lengthy dispute with Planning.

Initially based in St Ouen's Bay, the sauna moved to the east coast over winter.

However, just two weeks after the move, Cole was informed that he had to move the sauna from the top of the slip as the land was Government-owned and it required planning permission if he wanted to stay for more than 28 days. 

The sauna was subsequently moved next to the canoe club building, with Cole describing the 60-metre relocation as "a bit of an extra walk for our sea dips but not the end of the world".

Cole submitted a planning application for this new location in mid-October. 

However, it was refused because it required a heritage impact assessment, transport statement and visual impact assessment to be submitted, which he then announced on social media.

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Pictured: Cole McLean of the Sauna Society at the top of St Catherine’s slipway. (David Ferguson)

He said he felt this was unnecessary as his sauna is “only a trailer” and was set to leave the site in March, which is when his lease with Ports of Jersey will expire, as he intends to move out west for the summer months. 

Cole said: “I’m just working out costings for these assessments to see whether it is feasible for me to resubmit.

“A new submission will now need to be put forward which will no doubt cost me thousands for a space which I may only use for another few months.” 

He continued: “Surely we should be supporting entrepreneurship and businesses in general and not shutting them down to some outdated box-ticking methods currently in place?

“The whole system needs a revamp, as this current one isn't fit for purpose, it slows down innovation and is keeping Jersey back in the dark ages.”

Planning “incompetence” 

As well as those trying to obtain permission to create community spaces or tourist attractions, barriers caused by Jersey's planning system also extend to developers attempting to improve housing offerings on the island.  

In June, the Director of the Savoy Hotel claimed that the Planning Department's "incompetence" has cost his family £250,000 – and led to a "loss of crucial family housing opportunities for locals”.

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Pictured: An aerial view of the proposed development.

Roberto Lora had planned to demolish the premises and replace it with 53 “environmentally-conscious family townhouses”.

The plans included a mix of a mix of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments – which Roberto previously said “underpin the family-orientated vision of the scheme”.

But those proposals were unanimously rejected in May amid concerns over the impact on neighbouring properties – the conclusion to a saga involving mixed messages from planning officers and a "farcical scene" as the proposals were presented to the Planning Committee at a meeting last month, according to Roberto.

Following the rejection, Roberto said he felt his family and business's experience with Planning raised "concerns about the competence and effectiveness of the planning department".

"Flawed" and "broken" system

Le Masurier managing director Brian McCarthy also recently criticised what he called the island's "flawed" and "broken" planning system in which the Les Sablons development was caught for two years.

The plans for 238 apartments and a 103-room aparthotel between Broad Street and Commercial Street were finally given the go-ahead in December when then-Infrastructure Minister Tom Binet signed a ministerial decision.

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Pictured: The proposed Les Sablons plans, which took several years to approve.

Then-Planning Minister Jonathan Renouf refuted that the planning system was "broken".

He recognised that the speed of processing applications was still a "significant issue" – but stressed that there had been recent improvements.

“Seriously dysfunctional” 

Deputy Renouf commissioned a review of the department last year, which found that the processes involved in seeking planning permission were “seriously dysfunctional” and required “radical improvements”.

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Pictured: Jim MacKinnon CBE, a former Chief Planner to the Scottish Government, wrote a review which found that the processes seeking planning permission were "seriously dysfunctional" and required "radical improvements".

Mr Mackinnon made 16 recommendations – all of which were accepted by Deputy Renouf – which included enhancing customer service, updating processes and technology, and collecting systematic feedback.

A recent update highlighted progress in implementing most of the recommendations, but Deputy Renouf admitted that more needs to be done, especially in terms of speeding up application processing.

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Pictured: Then-Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf.

Deputy Renouf said: “The final quarterly update of 2023 shows improvement in several areas of Planning Services.

"Most of the recommendations in the Mackinnon Report have been implemented on time, or even ahead of schedule, reflecting our commitment to promote flexibility, responsiveness, and collaboration in the planning system.

READ MORE...

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WATCH: Could saunas start popping up around Jersey?

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Plans lodged for indoor skate park

FOCUS: Ramping it up down the nave

Planning "incompetence" lost us £250k

Neighbour concerns oust plans for eco homes on Hotel Savoy site

Fresh bid to replace Hotel Savoy with eco-townhouses

Hotel Savoy “eco-townhouses” proposal rejected

End of an era” for Savoy as eco homes planned

Improvements to Planning Services – but "more still needs to be done"

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