The Environment Minister has defended his decision to reject the views of hundreds of islanders fighting to save fields from development and quarrying, saying he has been left to “sweep up the mess” of previous governments.
68% of the 2,000 comments that were made in response to the bridging Island Plan – which will become Jersey’s planning blueprint until 2025 – focused on its support for expansion at La Gigoulande Quarry in St. Peter’s Valley and the rezoning of fields in St. Helier and St. Saviour for affordable homes.
Amendments by States Members seeking to remove these sites from the plan have also been dismissed by Deputy John Young.
But the Minister argues that Jersey has a ‘housing crisis’ and a balance needs to be struck. However, he concedes that the Island Plan has been left to “sweep up the mess” of previous governments, which have failed to introduce a credible population policy, which he said was “disgraceful”.
Deputy Young denied that the hundreds of pleas to save agricultural land and stop perceived over-development had been in vain, and the most controversial parts of the plan would now be studied in depth by three independent planning inspectors, who would invite submissions from the public and other interested parties.
Pictured: Residents living around West Hill meet to coordinate their opposition to build on three fields in the area, which are used by one of the island's two organic dairies.
He said: “My job is to look at the big picture; we have a housing crisis because we have not done enough to increase supply, and the plan proposes doubling that from 400 to 800 houses a year.
“Some of that can be done on States-owned land but we have no alternative but to rezone some open land. The plan is based on the longstanding aim to focus development on the edge of existing built-up areas, which already have the existing infrastructure, amenities, schools, churches, drains etc.
“That is why the fields earmarked for development are on the edge of St. Helier and around Five Oaks, with some limited expansion in rural areas in St. Peter, St. Ouen, St. Martin and St. John.
“The residents living close to these fields have expressed perfectly valid concerns: no one wants development on their doorstep, but ultimately, we have to make choices: we need to meet the need for housing or we don’t. We can also continue our current policies or we can adopt more of a scattergun approach to development, like Guernsey."
Pictured: The Island Plan proposes expanding the Coastal National Park, which has met with opposition, particularly in St. Martin.
He continued: “I personally believe our approach has been correct and Jersey has not spoilt its countryside. Indeed, this plan gives stronger protection to those special areas of the countryside through the expansion of the Coastal National Park, and I think the objections to that stem from a misunderstanding of what that protection means.
“But I concede that we have a crazy situation in the housing market and that is down to the frankly disgraceful inability of the previous governments to introduce a population policy. The reality is we are trying to fit a quart into a pint pot and the Island Plan is left trying to sort out the mess.
“It is my responsibility as Environment Minister to bring a plan for Members to debate but we are only going to get more and more friction until the island accepts and manages to live within its means. The ‘expansion, expansion, expansion’ mantra is not sustainable, and we could end up like Hong Kong if we don’t take action.
“We have dilly-dallied for far too long, and a credible population policy is absolutely essential as we move from this bridging plan to the next one, which will need to progress as soon as the next Council of Ministers is formed.”
The more than 2,000 comments represented a 50% increase in engagement compared to previous Island Plans, even this one is just for three years compared to the usual 10.
Of those, almost 40% objected to the plan’s support for a field in St. Peter being ‘safeguarded’ for mineral extraction. Field MY966 is across a green lane from La Gigoulande Quarry and was bought by owner Granite Products for £1.65m at the beginning of 2020.
Pictured: Manuela Milsom is one of many islanders opposed to the expansion of La Gigoulande Quarry, which lies on the border of St. Mary and St. Peter.
The plan says that quarrying under the field will add at least 30 years to the life of the quarry and reduce the island's reliance on importing aggregate, at least for the next few decades.
But the Minister said that the island did not yet have the infrastructure to import all the rock it needed.
“It’s inevitable that we will have to import large quantities of aggregates and sand one day but we’re not ready yet because we don’t have the capacity,” he said.
“At the moment, we are safeguarding a field; much like land around schools is safeguarded for education. But the actual expansion of the quarry has not been approved and would require a full environmental impact assessment, and any decision is years away.
“Also, I expect the planning inspectors, who know this is a highly controversial subject, will want consultants Arup and Granite Products to explain their rationale and will put them under rigorous scrutiny. And if the inspectors conclude that the field should not be safeguarded, then I will accept that.
“It is also disappointing that Ports of Jersey have not made more progress on increasing the ability of the Harbour to import more sand and aggregate.”
However, the Minister’s continuing support for safeguarding the field for mineral extraction has not been welcomed by islanders campaigning to save it.
Manuela Milsom, who is helping to coordinate the activities of those opposed to the quarry’s expansion, said: “It beggars belief that the Environment Minister appears to be tone-deaf to the complaints and concerns of the electorate and “is not minded to accept the proposed amendment” proposed by Senator Kristina Moore, where so much of the environment is at stake.
“He objects despite huge cross-island opposition to this plan, despite the impending destruction of an extremely popular Green Lane, despite the inevitable decimation of natural habitat and wildlife, despite the probable closure of a well-loved hotel and despite the loss of hundreds of mature trees.
“The safeguarding of MY966 will lead to a presumption to approve a planning application by Granite Products. It is the main argument to support any minerals application. Therefore, a decision of such magnitude needs to be shown, without any doubt, to be in the island's best interest. MY966 cannot be used for any other purpose.
“There is no need to rush. There is no benefit to the island in doing so."
Pictured: Field MY966 has been bought by La Gigoulande Quarry owner Granite Products for £1.65m.
She continued: “This proposal requires independent, forensic investigation prior to the next full Island Plan. There is no disadvantage to the island in delaying this proposal. There is no shortage of primary aggregates.
“Senator Moore’s amendment is sensible, reasonable and in the island's best interest. It is illogical to ignore it.
“The strength of feeling for this island-wide issue is running high and islanders will not let a UK company, which is out to make a profit above all else, ride roughshod over them at the expense of our beautiful island.”
Although the bridging Island Plan remains largely unaltered after the first consultation process, one of the 11 sites earmarked for social housing – two fields to the southwest of St. Martin’s Village Green – has been removed.
Fields MN389 and MN390, off Rue de la Haye, had been proposed to provide up to 41 homes but the landowner does support this rezoning, even though they were initially proposed under the ‘call for sites’ phase of the plan.
The other 31 ‘proposed modifications’ are mostly small scale, correcting typos or incorrect boundary lines drawn in the original plan.
The next phase of the plan is a review by the independent planning inspectors, who will hold an ‘examination in public’ and write their own report. States Members will also have another opportunity to amend the plan later in the year.
A full debate on the plan will be held next spring.
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