A States department accused of deploying a highway robbery-style tactic to gain money from coastal homeowners has confirmed quangos such as Ports of Jersey and the JDC could also be in the firing line.
In yesterday’s States Assembly, the Minister for Infrastructure, Deputy Eddie Noel, was grilled over the specifications of the social media-dubbed ‘Backdated Foreshore Infringement Tax.'
It was the first time the issue had been publicly discussed since Express revealed this summer that islanders were being forced to pay up to £30,000 plus legal fees to the States when selling their homes for intrusions on the Foreshore - even though the requests for money were made in the absence of an official government policy.
In response to questioning from Grouville Deputy Carolyn Labey, whose parish is affected, the Minister confirmed that preferential treatment would not be given to quangos and that they would be asked to pay for properties on the controversial strip of land in the same way as other property owners.
Defined as the area between high tide and low tide, the Foreshore belonged to the Queen until 2015 when she handed it to the Public for free. Given that high tide historically reached as far as Pier Road and Sand Street before the island’s boundaries were extended with reclaimed land, Deputy Labey pressed the Minister on exactly what maps he was using to determine where the encroachments lie. But he confirmed that there was “no specific date or specific map or plan that can be used” and that the Department relied on the advice of the Law Officers' Department in each case.
Pictured: Historic photographs like this one of Gorey show how the Foreshore is not clear cut and that even the States may have been responsible for encroachments by developing roads and walkways.
The Constable of Grouville further drilled down on whether this could affect other bays, such as St Brelade and whether each new owner of an encroaching property would have to pay, but the Minister replied that he would have to seek further clarification on both issues.
He added that the “resource hungry” process of pursuing encroachments was expensive to the Department, which is why they were only pursuing those selling or developing their homes individually rather than making an approach to the potentially thousands of home and business owners with properties on the island’s coastline at once.
St Clement Deputy Simon Bree questioned why the Minister seemed to be contradicting a 2009 precedent that had previously deemed the practice to be immoral and therefore saw over 60 homeowners freely gifted the disputed land. “It quite clearly states that it would be morally wrong to seek profit and yet that is exactly what he is encouraging his department to do... Have the minister’s morals changed?”
Pictured: 63 properties between Pontac and La Rocque were given rights to their garden land in 2009. Deputy Bree asked why that same principle wasn’t applied.
“Absolutely not… My department nor I do seek to profit from this, we are merely seeking the appropriate compensation to the Public via those that have encroached on Public land... Turning a blind eye is not the right thing to do,” he responded.
He added that “discounts” of up to 50% would be offered depending on how long the encroachment had been there, and repeatedly emphasised that settlements were negotiated.
Speaking to Express following the States sitting, Deputy Labey summarised her thoughts: "My questions in the States confirmed that there is no policy under which the Minister is pursuing the encroachment of the Foreshore. It also revealed there is no map or date which he is using as the basis to decide what has actually been encroached."
She added: "He did however admit that States quangos could be pursued if they have encroached the Foreshore. Given that Pier Road and Sand Street, as their names suggest, form the Foreshore on older maps, this could be an expensive exercise for Ports of Jersey and States of Jersey Development Company with their new Finance Centre.
"I do think it is a shame that the Foreshore has been built upon, because a promenade along the seafront as we have in Grouville from Fauvic Tower to the golf course is an enjoyable facility along the front. However, the Minister's 'stand and deliver' approach is hardly going to rectify this."
Alan Luce, the first homeowner to be affected, attended the questioning. He told Express that he was disappointed by the response of the Minister, who he felt had “squirmed and dodged the important questions” over the exact areas affected and which maps were used to determine the boundary. Contrary to what the Minister had said, he commented that the process in his experience had not been a negotiation, but had felt like being closer to “extortion.”
Pictured: Alan Luce, who said the process caused him some of the worst stress he had ever experienced, felt that the Minister's responses raised further questions rather than providing answers to his ordeal.
“The way in which they’re picking and choosing the low-hanging fruit shows a complete contempt of hardworking people,” he said.
He added that the Minister had also failed to justify why the moves were in the public interest, especially when the encroachments were put there while the land was still owned by the Queen, who did not take any action against islanders at the time. “The land has only been in [the Public’s] ownership for two years… It raises the question, ‘should this money be remitted to the UK Crown?’ ...It shows that the States may have acted in bad faith when they took on that land.”
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