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Environment Minister denies "bending over backwards" for cannabis farm

Environment Minister denies

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Environment Minister denies "bending over backwards" for cannabis farm

Wednesday 24 November 2021

The Planning department’s alleged lack of action over development infractions at Retreat Farm has led one States Member to accuse the Environment Minister of “bending over backwards” to support the medicinal cannabis industry.

Deputy Mike Higgins said he was “appalled” at the inaction of Deputy John Young and his department and asked if the minister would be initiating an independent investigation to see if to see if his officers “were acting appropriately or misusing their office."

This was strongly refuted by the minister, who said he would not be launching any investigation. 

The former Tamba Park is now a base for Northern Leaf, which began cultivating the hemp flower there last year. 

The former owner of the farm, entrepreneur Jonathan Ruff, is a shareholder in Northern Leaf.

Deputy Higgins said Planning had been “well aware” of examples of development in glasshouses at the St. Lawrence site that might have broken planning laws, but they had failed to act.

This was denied by the Minister, but he did detail other issues that had arisen at the farm.

Deputy Young told the States Assembly on Tuesday that while the enforcement notices had been resolved, other matters were subject to retrospective planning applications. 

“The department has investigated several complaints relating to various owners of the Retreat Farm in recent years,” he said. “During its time as an active tourist attraction, the area of former shops and café was used as a children’s play zone.

mike higgins.jpg

Pictured: Deputy Mike Higgins said that the Planning department had received many emails complaining about activity at Retreat Farm.

“When the site was not in an active use, the department received complaints relating to the storage of goods in shipping containers, the raising of land levels, the importation and processing of waste building material, the parking of vehicles and the erection of marquees for ice skating and covid testing without consent.

“However, most of these matters were resolved with persuasive compliance techniques; however, three enforcement notices were served in the autumn of 2020 to resolve that, and I am pleased to report that I have been advised that these notices have been complied with.”

He added: “Since the site has been brought back into agricultural use, for medicinal cannabis production, the department is investigating complaints relating to unauthorised construction of fencing, an oil tank, a water tank and a boiler room. 

“These more recent matters are the subject of current retrospective planning applications.”

The minister said he had visited the site and seen the size of the operation there. 

“The scale is the medicinal cannabis industry is now very different, and I have given instructions to officers to prepare drafting instructions to amend the General Development Order, as appropriate, to provide greater clarity so any intended industrial activity, in relation to the said use, does require consent.“

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