The outgoing Environment Minister has defended his decision to refuse two planning appeals last week – arguing that he would have never done so after the election.
An official ministerial decision, published online this week, shows that former Deputy John Young signed the document on 23 June – the day after the election – but the former minister said this wasn’t the case.
Instead, he signed it the day before – while votes for the new Assembly were still being cast. Mr Young said he had no idea why his official decision had been dated 23 June.
Yesterday, Express reported on the concerns of St. Peter Constable Richard Vibert, who said it had been “morally wrong” for the minister to rule on the appeal during the election period.
The appeal related to three applications concerning Home Farm, off Mont de la Hague, near St. George’s School.
An independent planning inspector reviewing the appeals, made by Gerald Le Ruez, had recommended that two of the three applications – relating to the siting of shipping containers and the use of hardstanding to park vehicles – should be approved, but former then-Deputy Young disagreed.
In doing so – and refusing the applications – he agreed with the original decision of officers.
Mr Young defended his actions of last week.
He said: “I dealt with four appeals about high hedges last Tuesday, which involved a public hearing and site visits.
“The following day, I had these three St. Peter appeals to deal with. This was all part of 'business as usual', which can’t grind to a halt because of the election.
“There is a long history of complaints about delays getting these appeals done; the Planning process has to continue.”
Pictured: Home Farm is off Mont de la Hague above St. Peter's Valley.
Mr Young added: “My powers officially ran out when the new Assembly was sworn in on Monday but there is no way I would have made a decision after the election – not in a million years.
“That would be absolutely unacceptable.
“I don’t know why the signature date was 23 June. For some reason, ministerial decisions take time to be published. In my opinion, they should be on the website the day they’re made.
“I made the decision last Wednesday, so on election day but before any results had been announced.”
The former minister said that, of the three appeals he faced last Wednesday, he had upheld one decision of the inspector – relating to construction of an access track – which had been recommended to be approved.
“The other two – which the inspector also recommended should be approved - ran contrary to the advice of the planning officer and the Planning Committee,” said Mr Young.
“It was one of the rare occasions when I made decisions contrary to the advice of the inspector.
“I considered that the loss of agricultural land would set a precedent for similar applications in future which could allow for a change of use from that to industrial.”
He continued: “A clear policy coming out of the Bridging Island Plan was the retention of agricultural land, and I don’t think that had been fully explored by the inspector.
“When it came to making a decision last week, I also concluded that it was in the island’s best interests to end the period of uncertainty, which allows the applicant either to make an appeal in law or resubmit an application.
“It was the last set of decisions I made as a Minister.”
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For all who may have visited the site in question it’s clearly not fit for any kind of agricultural use whatsoever thanks to the concrete that was left there by the Germans during the occupation. This was confirmed by the independent planning inspector who found wholeheartedly on the side of Mr Le Ruez and strongly recommended that the planning permission should be granted. Yet ex-deputy Young went against this and in such an underhand manner that is shameful and which has only served to discredit himself and fuel feelings of distrust in the ministerial system, making it even more difficult for those who are now just embarking as new states members.
I would call on the incoming replacement minister to put this wrong right immediately and to ensure that no more tax payers’ money is wasted on this case, as it will otherwise no doubt be dragged through the Court of Appeal where the decision will rightly be overturned.
Shame on Mr Young for what can only be described as a misuse of his power. He was not acting on behalf of the island and his poor excuses do not wash with the public.