A senior politician has launched a bid to bin the government’s controversial practice of fining coastal property owners, and compensate those who have already lost tens of thousands.
In a move that defies her Ministerial colleagues, the urgent ‘cease and desist’ order has been proposed by Minister for International Development Deputy Carolyn Labey and will face a States Assembly vote in March.
She is also calling for a “sensible” policy for dealing with encroachments by September 2020, accompanied by a detailed map setting out the exact boundaries of the vague foreshore.
Although formality dictates that Council of Ministers members should not bring challenges against each other, Deputy Labey told Express she felt she had “no choice” in the face of “resistance” to act from former Infrastructure Minister Deputy Eddie Noel, and his successor, the incumbent Deputy Kevin Lewis – even after their department came under heavy criticism from the States Complaints Board.
She’ll therefore be temporarily casting off her Ministerial title as she fights to convince States Members on the matter.
The ongoing land dispute dates back to 2015 when the Queen gifted the Foreshore – the land between the low and high watermark – to the ‘Public of the Island of Jersey’.
Little more than 60 days after receiving that ‘gift’, the government began pursuing homeowners whose properties either partially or fully sat on that land for ‘compensation’ – even if the encroachments weren’t their fault.
The first of those was Alan Luce, who was fined £30,000 plus legal fees when he tried to sell up his sea wall-side property.
Pictured: Alan Luce was fined £30,000 plus legal fees when he tried to sell his coastal home.
The saga ended up nearly ruining the sale, delaying it by 15 months, and knocking over £100,000 off the house value in the process. Mr Luce said it left him so stressed that he decided to leave Jersey.
Express also reported the case of Julian Mallinson, who was forced to pay £20,000 for encroachments that included a set up steps from his Greve d'Azette based property to the beach, which were approved by both the Planning Department and the Queen's land administrator while the land still belonged to the Crown.
Citing Mr Luce’s case in a report accompanying her proposals to scrap the fines, Deputy Labey said: “There was an unhealthy assumption made by the previous Minister that the property sellers must be able to afford whatever bill the Government choose to render against them, along with valuation costs, legal fees and delays. Some individuals may have had mortgages associated with their property, financial stresses, or personal reasons in which they were required to sell up.”
She also queried whether the Infrastructure Department had considered the “uncertainty and unease” their Foreshore compensation pursuit was inflicting on the coastal property market – from “the lending capacity [and] potential compensation for loss of sales” to “litigation against conveyancers who failed to pick up the Crown’s interest, and of course the loss in Stamp Duty”.
“Ask yourself if homeowners, perhaps elderly couples who wish to downsize, would contemplate putting their home on the market to then face the possibility of having to go into legal battle with Government?” she added.
Pictured: Julian Mallinson was fined for an encroachment that was approved by the Queen's own land administrator.
Deputy Labey went on to question whether the government should really be able to “cash in” on encroachments it “turned a blind eye to” before the land was gifted by the Queen.
“…While the Foreshore was owned by the Crown, the States were prepared to give planning permissions, convey properties, oversee contracts being passed in the Royal Court and collect Stamp Duty,” she explained.
“Did the States of Jersey as leaseholders of the foreshore not have a duty of care to the Crown to stop these encroachments rather than encouraging them?”
Describing the approach as “disdainful”, she suggested that the fines collected and States Treasury fines collected should instead be given back to the Crown.
She also queried whether the government itself was responsible for encroaching on the land, having built a sea wall in 1864 and reclaiming land in various island locations.
“Depending which date we are using to determine the encroachments we might be looking at the high tide mark being on the slipway in front of the Royal Yacht Hotel, which gave rise to the names of our streets in that area – Pier Road, Wharf Street, Sand Street,” Deputy Labey said.
Since Express first exposed the controversial ‘compensation’ practice in 2017, the government has defended it as being in line with its policy to provide the “best value” to the Public by securing the maximum possible financial return on any land it owns.
But Deputy Labey says there is one final – and significant – hurdle they may not have anticipated, which could result in the public purse losing significant sums of cash as a result of the policy, rather than gaining it.
There are currently five Seigneurs with historic claims to large swathes of land in Jersey, who could bring a legal challenge over who really has ownership.
Indeed in the early 00s, the government was forced to shell out £10m to appease Seigneur de la Fief de la Fosse, Advocate Richard Falle, in the infamous ‘Les Pas’ dispute over ownership of the St. Helier Foreshore.
Pictured: Historic images show how deciding which properties form part of the 'Foreshore' may not be so simple.
“The law of unintended consequences must not cost the Tax Payer again by this apparent money-making exercise,” she said.
While Deputy Labey says she agrees with the Department for Infrastructure that land owned by the people of Jersey should be protected, she argues that this must be done “in a fair, consistent, even handed way”.
For that reason, she concludes, a policy that recognises public ownership of the land, while also operating in an “open and transparent manner, not arbitrarily or discriminatorily” should therefore be drawn up and voted on by the States Assembly.
“Property owners need to know exactly where they stand.”
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.