The Chief Minister has hit out at a proposal to create a detailed report on extending Westmount to make it the access point to the new hospital at Overdale, saying it could destroy the whole project.
In the debate, Senator Le Fondré said that accepting the amendment would wreck the Council’s ambitions of achieving planning approval within the term of the current Assembly.
He said that the debate could lead to the Assembly being “mired in inordinate detail” which would “risk us becoming a 49-member planning or roadway engineering committee”.
Pictured: Senator Le Fondré said that any further delays to the access route could "kill" the project.
He added that the new hospital would cost the Government £10m a year for at least five years. He warned that accepting the amendment would add 30% to the total projected cost.
“That could kill the project, and I do not exaggerate on that,” he said.
The comments come as the debate begins for the future of Westmount, which has sparked heated debate both publicly and in the political sphere over the past week, after its plans to widen the road were criticised for not being detailed enough.
Scrutiny are suggesting in their amendment to Senator Lyndon Farnham’s proposition, that there is not enough detail in the current plans to vote on whether it is appropriate to build the extension, suggesting a new report be filed by 2 March.
However, the Deputy Chief Minister is arguing that doing this will set the project back another “12 to15 months", and would have a “serious impact on timescale and costs.”
Pictured: Senator Lyndon Farnham stated that he would not allow the "desecration" of People's Park.
Another contentious point in this morning's debate has been on the environmental impact of the changes to the road, following a campaign to protect Westmount's green space from Constable Simon Crowcroft.
“One of the reasons we recommended Overdale was to protect the People’s Park. And do members really think that we would allow the desecration of the park or any of the sounding area – of course we would not,” Senator Farnham said in response to these claims.
He added that he could “absolutely reassure members that any remodelling necessary would seek to improve the safety of the area, improve access to Overdale, enhance community and recreational space."
However, he admitted that "if any trees were impacted - and some will be impacted - they will certainly be relocated or replaced.”
It comes after the Senator stated last Friday that “intention is not to lose a single tree,” saying that trees along the top and bottom of the park would remain untouched, and reiterating the desire to replace any that did end up affected.
In her own opening speech proposing an amendment to the proposition, that would require the Political Oversight Group to file a more detailed report with full drawings and schematics on potential impacts by March, Chief Scrutineer Senator Kristina Moore highlighted this issue.
“If members look at the grid on page 27 of our report, it is clear that option 7 identifies in the Government’s own documents that 3,255 square metres of tree canopy will be lost,” Senator Moore said.
Pictured: Senator Kristina Moore questioned how many trees would be affected despite protestations from Senator Farnham the environment would remain as untouched as possible.
Referring to Société Jersiaise’s recent letter urging politicians to reject the new proposals, which cite “significant damaging to the form, character and appearance of Westmount,” Senator Moore questioned Senator Farnham again on his claim that he would not allow the desecration of Westmount: “Why do the Government documents in relation to the proposed access route, that 3,255 square metres of tree canopy will be lost?”
The broader conversation is currently dividing the States Assembly, with Deputy Lindsay Ash on the one hand arguing of Senator Moore's amendment that "the biggest financial risk of [the hospital project] is that we went all the way round again, all through the extensive and expensive process, only to find the States once again could not find agreement on what should be a common cause, and as a consequence we had lost further millions without a spade being placed in the ground or a brick laid... this is what this amendment has the capability of achieving."
However, Deputy Inna Gardiner agreed with Senator Moore that there had not been enough information to vote on the decision, criticising the Political Oversight Group's methodology.
"If Members had time to read our two Scrutiny reports, both reports identify that process has been poor and has not followed the best practice," Deputy Gardiner said.
Calling for more information to be made publicly available, she added that she wanted to see "at least some graphical representation of the visual impact that the proposed road will have," and criticised "the argument that it will take more resources and time to take the public fully informed", saying it would end up taking "the same amount of resources and time to deal with the public objections."
Pictured: St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft said that getting the public onside was important, and a key reason he would be backing Scrutiny.
St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft that he would like to see the Government devise a transport plan for the hospital before any planning application went in.
“We do not need a UK-style intervention into Westmount Road,” he said, adding that residents had not had time to digest how heritage and environmental concerns would be addressed.
“All of the work that Scrutiny wants to see done would be part of the planning process anyway, so it wouldn’t be time wasted,” he said. “It would allay fears and would allow the planning work to be done smoothly.
In backing the Scrutiny amendment, he said: “Any time spent to get the public onside would be time well spent.”
Treasury Minister Susie Pinel, on the other hand, said that she would like to “remind States Members of the very serious financial implications of this amendment”.
She added: “We estimate that for every month that goes beyond the current planned contract signature date of March 2022, there will be increased costs of £3.4m per month.
“If the contract was delayed by more than 15 months, this would cost us a completely unnecessary additional cost of £51m. We will also need to invest in maintaining our existing hospital for a further 15 months beyond 2026. This alone could add a further estimated £12m.
“These additional figures assume that our existing contractor remains with us. We do not have to renegotiate the contract with them. The current risk-reward contractual arrangements do not change. If this does happen, then the cost impact would be much more significant.
“We have consulted with our cost consultants and they are advising that there would be a potential increase in the order of 30% on our total current estimate.
Pictured: Treasury Minister Deputy Susie Pinel warned of the costs that could come if the relationship with the current contractors for the new hospital came to an end.
“Our current total estimate is £805m. 30% on this is an additional £240m.
“There are also further potential financial implications, which I have not attempted to quantify but members need to be aware of.
“If the relationship with our existing contractor did end, this would be the second time that the project had been cancelled following a contractor appointment, and contractors may be unwilling to incur the cost of bidding for a third occasion.
“Jersey may then need to pay an even higher premium to attract a future contractor.
“The other thing is that lenders may be less inclined to support the project in the future, given the repetitive delays. We would face the risk of not being able to attract finance, or of only doing so at a further increased cost.
“The delay that this amendment would impose is not financially acceptable.”
Pictured: The debate on Westmount has been a point of contention for both residents and members of the public, who have agreed with Scrutiny that not enough detail has been given, and could seriously impact both the environment and the people living there.
In contrast to the polarised views, the debate has also left some members with conflicts about how to vote; St Lawrence Constable Deidre Mezbourian began by accusing Senator Farnham and the other supporters of the requisitioned meeting of a “staggering error of judgment” by showing a “complete disregard” of due process in bringing the debate forward a week.
However, she then went on to say she could not support the Scrutiny amendment because it would further delay the closure of the current hospital, which had “failing and inadequate facilities”.
These worries were amplified by Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf, who made a passionate speech urging the need to get the new hospital made as quickly as possible, saying that that the current one was "tired" and "deteriorating," and that as a result "staff are angry about their work conditions, their morale is low, they often don’t feel supported."
"There are just not enough single rooms, and we can’t create more – this has hit us particularly during covid, but also when other viruses are around such as norovirus. We have to use single rooms to isolate patients and control the spread of the infection," the Minister said.
"The result of that inadvertently is that some patients pass away in wards – that’s distressing hugely for them, distressing for their families, huddled between the narrow space between a plastic curtain and the patient’s bed."
Deputy Rowland Huelin said that voting for the amendment would only prolong the anxieties of those who had agreed already on compulsory purchase.
“The stress and disruption are awful enough, but having it delayed with ensuing uncertainty is putting excessive and unnecessary additional stress on these families,” the Deputy said.
“We must respect those who have accepted their fate in a dignified and professional way, and shall be recognising them with a great appreciating for the personal sacrifice they are making – instead, this amendment will extend their turmoil. For them, if no one else, let’s get on with getting out this delaying amendment.”
Pictured: Constable Deidre Mezbourian looked at both sides of the debate before making her decision to vote against the Scrutiny panel's amendment.
Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis argued that the planning process would already factor a “fully independent and transparent” public enquiry, and so urged members to vote against it, saying:
“It’s not required… we already have systems in place to deal with such matters, and we have professionals who will be involved at the right time during the planning process.”
Senator Lyndon Farnham also entered back into the debate on the amendment, arguing against claims that there had been anything covert about the way the project has been handled.
“There has been nothing hidden; every scrap of information has been put in the public domain or shared with Scrutiny and if people haven’t seen it, we don’t have it to share with them. We can’t share it if we don’t have it, and that is why it is important that we make a decision today.
He added on the controversy around the green space that “it is the intention of the project not to lose a single tree.
“That is the intention. It is going to be impossible to deliver the project without having an impact on some of the trees. We are not going to know exactly what that is until we do the design but I can assure Members that the impact on the trees and the park will be absolutely minimal compared to what is being claimed.”
He further discouraged what he branded “speculation,” adding that: “we won’t know until we do the design and we follow a sequence. There is nothing hidden; there are no secret plans…
“We want nothing more than to get on with the design. I am sure that when we do have the firm designs, many Islanders will be reassured.”
Questioning these assurances, Senator Moore used her closing remarks to reiterate her position that: “The intention of this amendment is not to meddle or micromanage, we are seeking reassurance to keep this critical project on track, not to delay it.
“This project will go to a planning process, but in order to be confident in the chances of the application, why can we not be better informed?
“As an assembly, we do not seek to be a planning authority, however we do speak for the people, as we all know people really are about this matter.
“The people value the environment of Westmount, they value the impact it has on the townscape, and they want to understand the impact how this proposal will impact upon on it.”
On Senator Farnham's claims that even if the road was to go up to 12 metre wide, it would not be like a UK road, she questioned: "How does he know if he has not seen an illustration?"
She further warned: “I urge members to be very careful when members of this project are chaning their story with such great frequency. We and the public need clarity and confidence that his project will get done under their oversight.”
However, despite this plea for more detail, the panel's amendment to be presented with preliminary designs before a vote was defeated.
The original proposal to extend the road however, was voted in.
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