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FOCUS: "The situation that Jersey is facing is without precedent in scale"

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Thursday 11 June 2020

FOCUS: "The situation that Jersey is facing is without precedent in scale"


What should Jersey become as it emerges from the grip of covid-19? One of Jersey's most senior former politicians has spoken out on the projects he thinks should be prioritised to get the island back on track.

As we plan our economic recovery, Express is calling for your thoughts and views on how the island should rebuild itself.

What don't we want to go back to? And what opportunities really lie ahead?

If you can write between 500 and 1,000 words on how you see the road ahead for Jersey's economic recovery, then please send them to editor@bailiwickexpress.com.

Today, Pierre Horsfall CBE, the island's former senior politician, as President of the old Policy and Resources committee, begins the series...

"Behind every threat there lies an opportunity" - Phil Sharp, Jersey’s World Champion Class 40 sailor.

"The situation that Jersey is facing is without precedent in scale, and it is short-sighted to think that any of the old remedies can cope with it. These remedies include knee-jerk reactions like increasing taxation, which will stifle the economy rather than give it the kiss of life.

The economy is going to need all the help that the government can give it, largely by investment and encouragement in every way possible. This includes widespread investment in Jersey infrastructure, some of which is in a parlous condition, and in new initiatives and projects which will boost the economy long-term - a thought that includes tourism, as recent events will encourage tourists to holiday closer to home for years to come, and this could present significant opportunities for Jersey.

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Pictured: Former Senator, Pierre Horsfall CBE. 

For example, Fort Regent desperately needs redevelopment including access lifts from Snow Hill. Alternatively, a new use for the whole Fort Regent site must be found.

A possible replacement could be to build a new Sports, Performance, Conference and Art Gallery on the Waterfront carpark site. This project could be undertaken by the States-owned Jersey Development Company, who have already developed some major and outstanding office developments adjacent to the Waterfront.

JDC could own the site in question and would be able to arrange the necessary finance including borrowing the capital needed. This would be a tailor-made project for JDC, working to a specification provided by the States.

Jersey Heritage has also a number of potential projects that could be considered, with Jersey Heritage managing the projects rather than the States.

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Pictured: JDC could take the lead on a new Waterfront facility, finally replacing the outdated Fort.

Jersey roads are in an appalling state, as are a number of States-owned buildings, which could be brought up to scratch, while injecting money into the economy and having some worthwhile long-term assets, some of which would generate revenue.

Other examples would include the South Hill site where the Environment and Public Works Departments were located.

This is a prime site overlooking the Harbour and St Aubin's bay which could be redeveloped.

No doubt some would want it used for affordable housing, but it should be used for something that provides the best return which could be used elsewhere to build double the amount of affordable housing that South Hill could accommodate.

 

Planning Department South Hill

 

Pictured: How about redeveloping South Hill? A big project there could lead to generous returns.

Another example would be to act on the full survey of the Opera House, which was professionally conducted in 2019 and showed that the theatre is in a parlous state, and in urgent need of repair.

To do this while the theatre is closed and has no income because of  covid-19 would make very good sense. The opportunity could also be taken to make it more environment friendly by changing its large heating system from gas to electricity.

Senator Pallett has recently made the strong point that planned spending on sports projects set to be in the 2022-23 Government Plan should not be cut back as, “...we have hopes of being one of the most physically active communities in the world, fitness and wellbeing has to be this governments priority.”

Senator Pallett is right, the health of islanders is a priority and physical activity is a vital component both for physical health and for mental health.

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Pictured: the Opera House urgently needs repair work.

This opportunity must not be allowed to slip away, it must be seen as part of Jersey’s recovery from the pandemic, we really must not allow the pandemic to engulf us.

Former Senator Jim Perchard has also joined in, saying "there is a demand at base level from people who just want to play badminton, bowls, yoga, indoor cricket or netball."

The health benefits of physical activity should not be underestimated and investment in the facilities required will be a sound investment in Jersey’s future.

We cannot afford to turn our backs on the further development of our sporting facilities. In the same context, more and new cycle paths would also be a very good investment.

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Pictured: "More and new cycle paths would also be a very good investment."

The above are just a few examples of the type of projects that could be undertaken to galvanise Jersey’s economy back into action and there must be many more that could be added to the list for consideration.

States intervention was once done on a small scale when compared with the present proposal, through the Fiscal Stimulus Fund in 2004/2005 which prevented significant unemployment, while improving the Island’s facilities and infrastructure.

This bears no comparison with the scale of the situation today, other than through the very successful principle which undoubtedly worked well.

The present situation is without precedent but it must be faced up to in financial terms and in facing up, it must be seen as the opportunity lying behind the threat, the opportunity to improve Jersey’s future in the long-term - something that will not happen if it is burdened with increased taxation.

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Pictured: Increased taxation is not a solution.

This will only be achieved by Jersey’s Government borrowing large sums of money over a fairly long period. This is a new departure for Jersey but the present situation demands it, unless one wants Jersey to stagnate for the foreseeable future.

There is enough skill and knowledge in Jersey to be able to secure favourable terms at competitive interest rates by whatever structure knowledgeable people deem to best serve the purpose.

The Strategic Reserve has recently suffered losses through falls in the financial markets and now is not the time to crystallise those losses which will recover over time.

Instead, that Reserve should be retained as a backstop against any unforeseen problems or budgetary shortfalls before the benefits of the above action to the economy begin to bear fruit.

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Pictured: Jersey is going to have to borrow significant sums.

To spend it would leave Jersey without the proverbial lifeboat. When some sort of order has returned, the reserve could be used to accelerate repayment of the loan should the Government of Jersey see fit.

As a final comment, the present circumstances are potentially calamitous, but when considering what Jersey’s response and fight back should be, it must be remembered that Jersey is one of only a tiny handful of jurisdictions that run their affairs without any significant borrowing.

Internationally there would be nothing unusual about this proposal and it has potential for long term benefits for the Island.

Without it, Jersey will stagnate and not provide its people, particularly the young, with the future they deserve."

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James Filleul, Express Editor - Courage Vs Caution

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