Jersey Environment Minister has rejected allegations he had a conflict of interests in his decision to kick out plans to build a 27-unit luxury holiday village and a four-bedroom house at Tamba Park.
Deputy John Young says that the plans were in breach of the Green Zone policy, which he described as the foundation of Jersey's planning policy.
His decision to reject Jonathan Ruff's plans to transform a part of the dinosaur park, which is situated on the border between St. Lawrence and St. Mary, into a holiday village, was revealed yesterday. Mr Ruff wanted to demolish disused glasshouses including a packing station and box-making factory and replace them with 13 two-bedroom and 14 three-bedroom self-catering lodges as well as four ancillary buildings.
Mr Ruff expressed shock at the news of the rejection. He also took issue with the way the decision had been made, arguing that Deputy Young was clearly conflicted when making his decision as he had attended the Planning Inquiry.
Pictured: Jonathan Ruff, Tamba Park owner, said that the Environment Minister had been conflicted when making his decision.
Deputy Young however rejected the idea of any conflict. He told Express: "I don't have a choice. The law says it is the duty of the Minister to make the decision. The duty is on me and there is no provision within the law for me to delegate that duty.
"I was only a States Member from the elections and it is true that, as an individual member, I have made several comments over the course of the years. But when I was elected as Deputy, and then as Environment Minister, I took on the responsibilities. One of them was to be scrupulously objective when making decisions, which is what I sought to do."
The Environment Minister said that the reason he took so long to reach his decision is because he wanted to take the time to read the report from the Independent Planning Inspector, Graham Self. "This is a matter I inherited from the previous Minister," he said. "I wanted to read very, very carefully the inspector's report, there are 60 pages of it.
"He made a decision on balance but he does say in his report that he expects the minister to reach his own judgment."
Pictured: Tamba Park is located in the Green Zone. (Google Maps).
The main reason Deputy Young rejected the planing application is that Tamba Park is located in the Green Zone, where there is a general presumption against development. "I thought that the inspector had not given enough weight about the Green Zone which is the foundation of Jersey's Planning policy. We rejected the application for the St. Peter's housing estate for the exact same reasons and I did not see a case for making an exception for this application.
"It was breaching a fundamental policy, there was no amount of conditions that could have alleviated that. It was proposing to urbanise what is effectively a rural area and it would have had an impact on the character and landscape of the area."
Pictured: Independent Planning Inspector Graham Self (centre) hearing development plans for Tamba Park, submitted by Jonathan Ruff's council (left).
In his report, Independent Planning Inspector Graham Self noted there were "flaws and weaknesses" in Mr Ruff's case. He said the proposed lodges would not have the "high quality design" sought by the Island Plan and that the density of the development would be high. "Screening by vegetation could not take away the fact that the development would have an essentially urban character, probably more so than the existing largely unused glasshouses," he wrote. He also described some of the arguments put forward by Mr Ruff's team as "overblown waffle."
Mr Self however added that the proposed development would be "beneficial in various ways." "There would be a substantial reduction in the area and volume of buildings on both sites, and an increase in the amount of open land, restored into a condition suitable for future open field agricultural use." He also cited the changed pattern of traffic movement, the provision of new bus stops and a new footpath and landscaping as other benefits.
He added that evidence suggested that what would be offered by the development would be different to other tourist offerings. "It seems to me that if an entrepreneur is prepared to take the investment risk associated with developing a tourist-related project which could benefit the island's economy, this should be regarded as a point of support for the proposal."
Concluding he said: "On balance, I judge that the public interest planning gains would be sufficient to overcome the objections to the proposals, including the normal presumption against most forms of urban development in the Green Zone."
Mr Ruff, who said he will not go down without a fight, has now reached out to all States Members asking them to help overturn the Minister's Decision. He wrote: "It has been frustrating to have spent so much time and effort in an attempt to bring something different to Jersey’s tourism sector knowing that the new minister for planning had the power to go against a highly respected independent planning inspector’s decision...
"I would be grateful if any Members can see a way forward to help overturn Deputy Young’s astonishing decision to ignore a planning inspector’s decision and help inject some much-needed extra bed-space into the Island’s tourism sector, or will it remain a huge eyesore next to a popular island tourist attraction."
Mr Ruff also started a poll to show the support behind his scheme. In a post on the Tamba Park's Facebook page, he wrote: "States members are in power to serve the people of the island so if the holiday village has enough support surely they will listen and do something about it. The planning minister has made a mistake and that's ok as you cannot make the right decision every time but he can stand up accept his mistake and put it right."
So far, over 2,000 people have voted with 92% voting in favour of the holiday village development.
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