Coastal homeowners will finally get to find out if they're at risk of being fined by the government for the location of their property after the Infrastructure Minister promised to publish a map of the ill-defined strip of land known as the 'foreshore.'
The land formally belonged to the Crown, but was passed into public ownership in 2015. Since then, the government has been ordering those with properties encroaching on that strip - even unknowingly - to pay compensation in the tens of thousands.
Revealing the move to formalise the boundary of the 'foreshore', which is defined simply as 'the area between high and low tide', Deputy Kevin Lewis said he hoped it would bring "greater clarity and certainty".
He made the commitment in response to a written question from Constable Mike Jackson asking about what action the Minister is taking to address public concerns regarding the foreshore.
The ongoing saga was brought to light when Express revealed the struggles of two coastal homeowners – Alan Luce and Julian Mallinson – who were made to pay Jersey Property Holdings (JPH) when they tried to sell up.
In Mr Luce's case, his property's alleged encroachment was never flagged up - either at the point of purchase or any time before he sold it. Mr Mallinson's encroachment, meanwhile, partially related to a set of steps from his property to the beach - something he had received planning permission for, following a stamp of approval from the Crown.
Pictured: The Minister has promised a comprehensive review of the foreshore to put longstanding confusion over the land to bed.
After a formal complaint against the Minister was upheld and others have been pursued for encroachments, the Infrastructure Department has been working on a definitive review of where exactly the foreshore lies, to give it a more clear definition than “lying between the low water mark and the high water mark of the full spring tide."
This piece of work is due to be completed in April of this year. After that, the Minister has promised a second look at the Government’s 2017 policy on pursuing encroachments.
He stated: “There will be a thorough review and I expect that States Members will be offered a briefing with the results. I also emphasise that I am committed to improving and simplifying the process in relation to property transactions where the public of the island’s interests are engaged so that there is greater clarity and certainty for the particular property owners concerned.”
Having made these promises, Deputy Lewis’s response to Constable Jackson’s question also defended the approach of his department to the foreshore issue, emphasising that the land “exists for the benefit of the community at large".
He continued by saying that the foreshore “is not a free resource to be annexed for the benefit of private individuals."
"The foreshore is central to Jersey’s sea defences, which assume ever more importance in the context of climate change. The foreshore is also an important resource for access for matters such as drainage, navigation, and fishing, as well as access to and enjoyment of our coastline by the public,” he explained.
The Minister went on to insist that “payments sought by JPH from landowners holding property which encroaches on the foreshore are not 'fines'”, but rather ensuring that JPH acts in line with its founding principles - one of which being to ensure the government gets the maximum financial return from any land it owns.
Pictured: The Minister's written response was published in time for yesterday's States sitting.
“This is not a new process,” the Minister emphasised.
He also reminded the Constable that payments sought from property owners were “determined in accordance with valuations by third party surveyors (since 2005) depending on the nature and extent of the encroachment.”
Whilst the Minister previously refused to answer a Scrutiny Panel about the fairness of the current policy on the foreshore, in his written question, he addresses this question.
“Ownership of the foreshore and the seabed brings with it all the rights and the responsibilities of ownership. Those responsibilities include how best to protect the public’s interest in the foreshore as a valuable amenity for the benefit and enjoyment of all. In other words, ensuring that public access for all islanders is not unduly impeded by the actions of others. For example, is it fair that some sections of promenade can no longer be accessed by the public due to encroachments? Or, that were it not for encroachments made in the past, additional coastal footpaths could now be provided for the public benefit.
“No individual member of the public has any form of personal ownership interest in the land which is owned by the Public. If the Government of Jersey’s attitude were one that property belonging to the Public is a free asset for neighbours to help themselves to, such a position would quite rightly attract severe criticism.”
The Minister concluded his response by saying that he will also publish a map “of all public accesses, footpaths, and rights of way, to the foreshore".
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