The Director of the Savoy Hotel has claimed that Planning Department "incompetence" has cost his family £250,000 – and led to a "loss of crucial family housing opportunities for locals”.
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 Mr Lora previously said “underpin the family orientated vision of the scheme”.
But those proposals were unanimously rejected last month 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 Mr Lora.
Following the rejection, Mr Lora said he felt his family and business's experience with Planning raised "concerns about the competence and effectiveness of the planning department".
A key problem, he explained, was inconsistent advice given by two different planning officers – the first of which was operating remotely from the UK.
This first planning officer “crucially supported our eco-friendly family townhouse redevelopment project”, he explained.
However, Mr Lora claims that one month after submitting the application, the UK-based planning officer was “unexpectedly removed from the project without prior notice or communication”.
Pictured: An aerial view of the proposed development.
The hotel director says that this “unprofessional and disappointing situation led to the appointment of a new, unresponsive junior case officer who eventually advised us to withdraw our application, despite the previous endorsement”.
Mr Lora explained: “We invested £250,000 and three years into developing a scheme to exit the hotel business and provide much-needed family homes in Jersey.
“However, the planning department's actions have needlessly hindered our efforts.
“We were ignored and stonewalled when we sought clarification on their reasons for wanting a complete withdrawal.”
Mr Lora also described a “farcical scene” at the Planning Committee Meeting, during which he claims that “the case officer misrepresented our scheme and used outdated slides that included a swimming pool, which was no longer part of our application”.
Pictured: The Savoy first became a hotel in 1968.
He added: “Despite our efforts to correct the information, the officer blamed our architect and misled the committee.
“This farcical scene further damaged our chances of approval – something very hard to achieve at the best of times.”
The hotelier concluded: “We have been subjected to gross mistreatment and believe it is a result of incompetence and/or unilateral decision-making within the Planning Department.
“Although our scheme had minor issues to address, the lack of cooperation and support from the planning department hindered our progress.
“Sadly, this means islanders have missed out on a valuable housing opportunity, and developers will likely stick to conventional, small apartments that mainly end up in the buy-to-let market.”
He added: “We urge the local press and the community to recognise the failures within the Planning Department and advocate for fair treatment and support for projects that address the urgent need for family housing in St. Helier.”
The Government of Jersey declined to comment on Mr Lora's specific planning applications but confirmed that all planning officers in Jersey are required, by law, to make determinations in line with the Bridging Island Plan.
Mr Lora’s criticism follows a damning independent report on the "underperforming" Planning Department, which condemned the its "unfit for purpose" processes and "severely dysfunctional IT systems" and called for "radical improvements".
In his review, Jim McKinnon CBE – a former Chief Planner to the Scottish Government – found that the processes seeking planning permission are "seriously dysfunctional" and require "radical improvements".
Pictured: Following Mr McKinnon's review, Environment Minister Jonathon Renouf admitted that the Planning Department was "falling short".
He added that "far too much is expected of young and inexperienced staff lacking the technical knowledge to carry out work effectively" in the department.
Following the review, the Environment Minister admitted that the department was "falling short", and pledged to take action to address the problems identified by Mr McKinnon.
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