Jersey's Infrastructure Minister has repeatedly refused to comment on the ‘fairness’ of the current foreshore policy despite the States enforcing a total of at least £70,000 in encroachment claims against homeowners.
Facing a grilling from a panel of scrutineers, Deputy Kevin Lewis consistently refused to say whether he thought the policy was fair or not until after a £22,000 review of where the contested land begins and ends.
The longstanding issue of encroachment and the foreshore was brought to light when Express revealed the struggles of two coastal homeowners – Alan Luce and Julian Mallinson – who were slapped with hefty fines from Jersey Property Holdings (JPH) when they tried to sell their seaside properties due to part of the land having been gifted from the Queen to the public of Jersey in 2015.
Pictured: Alan Luce was one of the coastal homeowners slapped with a hefty fine when he tried to sell his house.
Insisting that he didn’t want to “prejudge” the outcomes of what was referred to as a ‘Landside Boundary Review’, the Minister declined to comment on many matters relating to the foreshore and often deferred to his officers during a quarterly hearing with the Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny panel which touched on the subject this week.
Following a series of deeply critical findings of a States Complaints Board (SCB) regarding how Infrastructure have handled the issue, it emerged at the hearing that the Department has commissioned a review intending to establish the exact boundary of where the foreshore meets the rest of the island.
Despite fierce criticism from SCB and the Law Society, the Department appeared to defend their approach to the foreshore issue during this hearing.
Deputy Kirsten Morel, chairing the Scrutiny panel – comprising Deputy Inna Gardiner and Constable Sadie Le Sueur-Rennard – in the absence of its regular Chair (Constable Mike Jackson) and Vice-Chair (Constable John Le Maistre), opened the meeting by asking the Minister whether he considers the current policy on foreshore encroachments to be “fair.”
Pictured: Deputy Kirsten Morel chaired the Scrutiny Panel.
His response: “Well there’s a review taking place and that should be ready by the end of the year. There’s an awful lot of work going with property holdings and the Law Officers’ Department.”
At this point Deputy Lewis attempted to hand over to his officer colleague, Manager of Jersey Property Holdings (JPH) Phillip Ahier, but the scrutineer insisted: “Would you mind… the question is fairly simple. Do you consider it to be a ‘fair’ policy?”
To this, the Minister said: “I’d rather wait for the results.”
Further on in his questioning, Deputy Morel asked: “Minister do you consider it right or just to apply a new policy retrospectively to landowners some of whom might not have actually made the encroachment themselves?”
Deputy Lewis replied: “I’d rather wait until the end of the year when the full report is in and I will consider that with officers. I don’t want to prejudge anything that may or not come out of that.”
Despite having already pursued encroachment claims against several individuals and collected £70,000 in ‘compensation’ as a result, the exact island-wide boundary of the foreshore has never been finally demarcated on a map – until now.
Pictured: An island-wide review of the where the foreshore begins and ends is being carried out currently.
It was heard that the Department will only consider changing its policy depending on the results of this survey. Asked by Express, a Government spokesperson said: “The work to clarify the landside boundary of the foreshore is a joint exercise by Jersey Property Holdings (JPH) and the Law Officers’ Department (LOD).
“Most of the work, comprising research, is being done by existing officers, but additional resource is being provided by an LOD contract Conveyancing Officer. The budget from JPH for this work is £22,000.”
When asked about the rationale of doing this work now, after claims have been pursued against homeowners, John Rogers, Director General of Growth, Housing and Environment – which Infrastructure now falls into – said that there was a “slight unawareness of the scale of this.” However, he denied that the Department was financially motivated to pursue these claims.
“It wasn’t an aggressive ‘how can we make loads of money out of people who live on the foreshore’ approach."
Rather, the Director General claimed that the Department took each problem as it came and that the issue now “appears to be far bigger than we envisaged.”
It was said that this work would be completed by the end of the year with the expectation that the report would be published in January 2020, but the Minister could not confirm "an exact date" that the findings would be made public.
Another bone of contention during the heated discussion arose from whether or not the Infrastructure Department had sought legal advice regarding the original contract signing the land over from the Queen to the public of Jersey in 2015.
Deputy Morel accused Property Holdings of enacting a policy that “was not in keeping with the spirit of that contract.”
He then proceeded to quote from a section of the contract which he claimed allows “whatever was going on before up until this point in the contract will be allowed to carry on without any penalty.”
Pictured: The question of whether the department had sought legal advice over the 2015 contract with the Crown was raised at the hearing.
At this juncture, Mr Rogers interjected: “I think there’s an interpretation there.”
This gave rise to a heated exchange between the Scrutiny chair and the Director General who was insisting that they couldn’t answer that “very legal question” without a lawyer present.
Mr Rogers said that “legal opinion was given at those times” when officers approached individual homeowners over encroachment claims, but when asked he could not disclose what that advice was.
Neither, it seems could Mr Ahier who, when asked by Deputy Morel if they took legal advice on the 2015 contract said: “I’m really not in a position to answer that.”
He then stated: “I don’t think it was a matter that we addressed,” adding, “I don’t think it was an issue that arose.”
Deputy Gardiner interjected at this point, asking that if legal advice was sought, that the panel should be given a copy and, if it wasn’t, “then maybe it’s something that should be addressed.”
Mr Rogers replied: “I think that’s a fair point and we can do that.”
Read Express tomorrow for the reaction of former coastal homeowners Alan Luce and Julian Mallinson to this Scrutiny Hearing…
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