Town regeneration plans on hold as levy is dropped
PROJECTS to regenerate neglected areas of St Helier have had to be shelved, the Environment Minister has said, after the States threw out proposals for an infrastructure levy which could have boosted States coffers by around £1.5 million a year.
The decision means schemes to transform parts of the north of town, such as Midvale Road and David Place – where plans for one-way systems, widened pavements and improved scenery were being drawn up – have been put on hold as it would be ‘foolish to spend time, money and effort drawing up schemes’ without having funding mechanisms in place, Deputy Steve Luce said.
Despite the setback, the Environment Minister said ‘nothing had convinced him’ that an infrastructure levy was wrong for Jersey and that, should he remain in post after the May 2018 election, he hoped to bring similar proposals back to the Assembly ‘sooner rather than later’.
He added that the Council of Ministers needed to give consideration to ring-fencing funds from environmental charges – such as Vehicle Emissions Duty – to go towards improvement projects as his department was often ‘near the bottom of the list’ when States funds were handed out.
The infrastructure levy would have required those benefiting from a rise in land value to pay a small percentage of the sale of the land to offset the impact of development on the environment.
During the States debate, Deputy Luce said that the finer details of the proposals would come at a later date but was asking the States for in-principle approval of the charge.
However, Members narrowly rejected the move by 21 votes to 18 with several Members arguing that the levy could cause house prices to rise.
The minister said the construction industry had run a successful campaign of ‘scaremongering’ in diverting attention away from the benefits of the scheme towards the alleged potential impact on house prices.
The controversial charge was designed to generate funds from private developments to spend on public and community projects – such as play areas, open spaces and gardens – as part of the regeneration of St Helier, and similar projects in other parishes.
Deputy Luce said: ‘We have a lot of schemes planned around the north of town – schemes to put a lot more one-way traffic into those areas to allow for wider pavements and to improve the scenery.
‘They were quite well developed but the funding for it now will be under question.
‘I don’t want to do half a job – we could turn Midvale Road one-way but it wouldn’t look very nice. We are trying to make it a more attractive place to be and we can’t do that without some money.
‘The Future St Helier project is up in the air a bit. We could put everything on hold for six months but certainly, if I’m still around after the election, I will come out very heavily in favour of funding Future St Helier.’
As part of the Strategic Plan, the Council of Ministers identified St Helier as one of its core priorities. This prompted the Future St Helier focus group to be launched, joining Deputy Luce with Infrastructure Minister Eddie Noel, St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft and other key stakeholders to develop plans for regeneration of the parish.
And Deputy Luce added that while areas such as health and education rightly took preference when funding decisions were made, environmental issues are often left fighting for money.
‘I was really hoping that everyone around the Assembly would see that what we were proposing was a way of identifying some funds for St Helier that otherwise are not going to be identified around the Council of Minister’s table.
‘Moving forward, if we are going to take the environment seriously, sustainable transport seriously, improving St Helier seriously, then money needs to be kept in those areas. Those areas are not going to get themselves above funding a new hospital or employing more teachers but things like VED and the infrastructure levy need to be directed to improving parts of St Helier and our Island.
‘Otherwise, those charges get lost in general revenue and it is difficult to get them back out again.’