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States Members being made to vote “with guns to their heads”

States Members being made to vote “with guns to their heads”

Monday 11 September 2017

States Members being made to vote “with guns to their heads”

Monday 11 September 2017

Jersey’s elected representatives will have to vote in two weeks' time “with a gun to their head”, the Constable of St Helier has said.

His comments come following a Ministerial Decision by the Minister for Infrastructure, Deputy Eddie Noel, announcing his intention to sign off on a nine-year lease of Warwick Farm - just days after Constable Simon Crowcroft suggested delaying letting the site by six months so that a study could be conducted into turning it into a St Helier Country Park.

Politicians are due to vote on the Constable’s idea at the end of the month, but he now fears that they will feel pressured to vote against it after the Minister already advised States Members of his will to sign a lease contract via the decision. In line with States Standing Orders, the lease can officially be signed 15 working days following presentation to the States, which will allow members to query it.

Deputy Noel explained that he had signed the Ministerial Decision so that the prospective tenants would not have to wait "longer than is absolutely necessary to find out if they can acquire the use of the land in time for the 2018 growing season", which he described as "fair to both the prospective tenants and to the Connetable, whilst respecting the authority of the Assembly." The Constable disagreed with this sentiment, however.

“By signing [the Ministerial Decision] already, which was completely unnecessary, he’s simply using that to make the debate on the feasibility study and the delay less likely to be won,” he told Express. “It’s unacceptable, it’s unnecessary, it shows disrespect for private members, and I hope that States Members will see if for what it is, which is a tactic to try and influence their decision making.”


Pictured: Constable Simon Crowcroft is concerned that States Members will be cornered into voting against his proposal for the Grand Route de St Jean site.

It has long since been the Constable’s ambition to create a park on the doorstep of the island’s capital to balance the concentration of new development in the parish, as agreed in the Island Plan 2011. That idea gathered further momentum recently after what he described as “the green lung” of La Colette low-rise was dug up to make way for new flats.

But he has been repeatedly disappointed with Ministers’ actions that he says seem to run contrary to their labelling of the the Parish as a ‘strategic priority’ for the island, and the subsequent creation of a ‘Future St Helier’ group by the Chief Minister. Constable Crowcroft added that it was “particularly surprising and disappointing” that the Warwick Farm lease decision had been made by a Minister that sits with him on this group.

“For the Constable of the Parish to bring forward a prop designed to improve entirely in line with the strategic plan, which puts St Helier as one of the strategic priorities of the Council of Ministers and then for one Minister to do all he can to stop that from going forward for a debate without any guns held to Members’ heads is completely wrong, and I think that is disgraceful… It’s sign of where the Council of Ministers is with regards to Future St Helier. It’s supposed to be a strategic priority, but I’ve had no comment from the Chief Minister, I’ve had no comment from the Environment Minister, and all I’ve had from the DfI minister is a Ministerial Decision, which makes it more difficult for me to get this through the States,” he said.

The Constable remained adamant, however, that this was not the end of the road for the St Helier Country Park idea. He said that he would be making St Helier deputies and other States Members aware of his sentiments ahead of the debate.

In an email to States Members, Deputy Noel explained his rationale behind the decision. He said that the prospective tenants, who are local residents, "...provided a sound business case and competitive financial proposal to support their bid." He added that the Environment Department supported their bid to diversify the agricultural industry with experimental crops.

"The proposed lease is for nine years with a mutual break clause at five years to allow for any changes under the next Island Plan. There is also a provision in the proposed lease for a shared pathway across Warwick farm for pedestrians and cyclists which will allow Fern Valley and Valles des Vaux to be joined up “off road” for the benefit of St Helier residents and of course all other Islanders and visitors," he said.

The Chief Minister has previously publicly expressed a desire for the ‘green’ Warwick Farm site to be rezoned in order to build affordable housing in the long-term, while the Housing Minister, Deputy Anne Pryke, told a Scrutiny hearing last week that she thinks it should be considered for a mental health facility or hospital key worker accommodation.

She defended the DfI Minister’s decision as, “...the right thing to do in order to maximise the benefit of the site for the Public.”

“In the long-term, there is an opportunity to consider other uses for the site. Warwick Farm is situated in the green zone so the future of the site for anything other than agriculture will need to be considered as part of the island Plan process which will need to be approved by the States,” she commented.

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