A backbench politician has drawn attention to a potentially “damning” Ministerial Decision showing a “clear precedent” that the States should not be charging for Foreshore encroachments.
In 2009, 63 property owners along the sea wall from Pontac to La Rocque were granted rights to the land between the end of their properties and the sea wall free of charge.
The decision meant that they were allowed to leave their gardens, balconies and other encroachments in place over the controversial Foreshore zone, even though those developments were on Public land.
The gifting of the land was supposed to take place in the 1970s after the Public acquired the land from the Queen in order to build the sea wall, but for an unknown reason, the paperwork was never processed. The transaction in 2009 aimed to rectify that error.
In doing so, Ministers considered whether they should aim to make a profit by selling land back to islanders, but decided that it would be “morally wrong” to do so because they had bought the land from the Crown for just £100. The entire Foreshore, however, was later gifted back to the Public by the Queen in 2015 - for free.
Pictured: 63 private properties between Pontac and La Rocque were given rights to their garden land in 2009.
The decision to hand land rights to the 63 property owners was signed off by the then Assistant Treasury Minister Deputy Eddie Noel, who is now the Minister for Infrastructure - the department in charge of administering what has been dubbed the “Backdated Foreshore Infringement Tax (BFIT)”.
St Clement Deputy Simon Bree, whose parish is affected, says that the 2009 decision could be the nail in the coffin for the “revenue raising exercise”.
He told Express: “The 2009 decision was a very sensible, clear, unambiguous approach to it. The States of Jersey were acting in the best interests in the Public of Jersey. It made sense, it clarified the situation… Why is that precedent being seemingly ignored by the Department when dealing with other people? When you look at what happened in 2009, it seems to completely contradict what the Department are saying now, and yet the Department are basing their actions on a Ministerial Decision in 2006, which is three years earlier.
“It shows that this is a very unclear position that the Department are taking.”
So far, the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has raked in more than £70,000 from three properties alone, but says that it is in negotiations with a number of other parties. One affected homeowner described the process as "extortion".
Despite having no specific policy for dealing with encroachments, DfI say that they have every right to bill property owners for use of the land because Jersey Property Holdings (JPH) – the body pursuing the claims – must “extract the optimum benefit from the Public’s property assets” as per a 2006 Ministerial Decision.
Pictured: Deputy Bree said that the 2009 decision had been "seemingly ignored" by the department.
Roy Foster, JPH Director of Estates, denied that the 2009 case formed a precedent. “Cases are dealt with on their merits,” he commented.
DfI officials say that they’re in the process of putting an official policy together, but that policy could be issued by way of a Ministerial Decision, meaning that it won’t have to be debated in the States Assembly. However, there would be significant opposition from other States members if this occurs, Express understands.
Deputy Bree is now calling for an official policy to be brought before the States for consideration and scrutiny.
“States Members need to debate whether or not it’s in the best interests of the people of Jersey. It’s in the best interests of the Department because they’re earning money out of it, but the question is, is it in the best interests of the Public of the Island of Jersey? And as a States Deputy, that’s who I’m here to represent.”
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