A duo of politicians are fighting to help a young agricultural entrepreneur avoid losing all his money after he was "let down" by poor advice and a lack of support that led his fledgling forestry business to be cut down.
St. Peter Constable Richard Vibert and former parish deputy Senator Kristina Moore took up the challenge to help Oswald Gordon (22) after his retrospective application for a field in St. Peter's Valley was "reluctantly" rejected by States Members at a Planning Committee meeting last month.
While the number of local young people getting into farming and forestry work continues to fall as more are recruited into Jersey's largest industry, finance, the young outdoor enthusiast had plans to swim against the tide.
He bought a 2.1 vergée field at the junction of La Rue des Sapins and Mont des Routeurs just over a year ago, with hopes of setting up a wood cutting business.
He was planning to collect felled and fallen trees and bring them to the field – which is authorised for agricultural use – where he would cut, split and sort them before re-distributing them elsewhere.
The use of the land had been discussed at the time of purchase and his lawyers “hadn’t seemed to think planning permission would be necessary” to start his business, but he was later informed otherwise.
Pictured: The 2.1 vergees field is at the junction of La Rue des Sapins and Mont des Routeurs.
Mr Gordon therefore submitted a retrospective application to the Planning Department, telling officials in his cover letter that he been interested in gardening since the age of 13, having spent most of his childhood on a farm, and that he spends most of his time “doing things outside, both on land and at sea”.
While six letters were sent to the department in support of Mr Gordon's ambitions, 18 islanders objected over concerns over noise disturbance and how the activity would harm the former green meadow.
A Planning Officer also recommended the application be rejected over concerns it would go against planning policies and “unreasonably harm” the area and disturb its “quiet rural character”.
With several parties in dispute, it came before the Planning Committee - a panel of politicians in charge of reviewing contentious applications - during their most recent hearing in February.
During the hearing, John Refault, the former Constable of St. Peter, warned that if the application was approved, the site, which he described as a “historic meadow”, would become “totally absorbed” as a commercial site.
Pictured: Neighbours objected to the application saying it would cause noise disturbance and harm the site.
A neighbour urged the committee to reject the application, saying it would confirm the island is “resolute about protecting nature and the environment". “In these materialistic times, creeping urbanisation is replacing natural beauty,” he warned.
But Mr Gordon’s brother, Billy, urged the committee to consider the application in the context of energising what was once Jersey's key industry.
“A lot of you think this is just about a young man and a field, it is not,” he said. “It’s about young people getting into physical labour and agriculture.”
He warned that if the application was refused, a lot of people would avoid setting up their own businesses and instead go into finance.
A woman also spoke in favour of Mr Gordon’s application, suggesting the Planning Department should have become involved when the field was sold, or in between. She told the panel Mr Gordon had used “quite a bit of his savings” to purchase the field and was at risk of losing his money if he could not set up his forestry business.
“If you do decide to refuse that maybe you could advise Ozzie to look where he could do that work,” she suggested.
The Planning Department eventually rejected the application, but all members said that they did so reluctantly, expressing “enormous sympathy” for Mr Gordon.
“This is very difficult for me because as we have heard already, this is a young man who has probably not received the best advice about the business that he set up,” a "disappointed" St. Lawrence Constable Deirdre Mezbourian said.
Pictured: Richard Vibert, St. Peter’s Constable, has vowed to help Mr Gordon.
Speaking after the hearing, St. Peter Constable Richard Vibert said he had offered to help Mr Gordon and would soon be meeting with him. He had attended the planning meeting, saying the application would not be “the end of the history of this site”.
He reminded the panel that the previous owner of the field had started making changes to the field, back in 2010, as images on Google Maps showed. He told Express the field had been cultivated with vegetables and flowers and had “chickens running around”.
He therefore argued that none of the changes made to the site could be attributed to Mr Gordon, adding he hadn’t bought the site as “a nice green meadow”.
He regretted Mr Gordon had not received “appropriate or even sufficient advice”. “He had a business plan. People were aware of what he wanted to do,” Mr Vibert said. “Someone should have said, ‘At some point you need to get planning permission.'
“He invested all the money and put a retrospective Planning Application, which was refused. He is 22 years old, very few young people would even consider going into any sort of agriculture business. He has been let down. He must be feeling somewhat deflated by the outcome.”
Pictured: Mr Vibert wants to help Mr Gordon get the "proper advice" for his business.
The Constable also argued the Planning Department should have been involved long before the field was sold. “I pass the field virtually every day,” he said. “I have seen it change from a meadow with a little brook and cows at some point.
“Nobody actually went in there and actually questioned what was going on. The well only became protected in 2016. Somebody should have looked at it and put protection on it before that.”
Mr Vibert said he and Senator Kristina Moore will be supporting Mr Gordon so that he gets the “proper advice” whatever he decides to do next and does not end up in the same situation.
“We have an obligation to help someone in that sort of situation. He does need our help. We have to make sure he has the correct advice and absolute clarity. I honestly feel he has been let down. There should have been people giving him advice.”
If Mr Gordon decides to sell the field to set his business up in another location, Mr Vibert suggested that the land could be bought by benefactors and given to the Parish.
“It could become a site of benefit for a wider number of people,” he said. “There is a lot going on in that little wetland area. Nothing that has been done is irreversible, we could restore all the area. But that’s only if [Mr Gordon] wants to sell.”
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