States departments ‘need to work more closely in future’
THE refusal of planning permission for the new hospital earlier this year could have been avoided if States departments had worked more closely, the Environment Minister has said.
Deputy Steve Luce said that Islanders must have been ‘hugely frustrated’ after plans for the £466 million facility – Jersey’s largest ever capital programme – were turned down in January, creating further delays to the project.
He added that working closely with his department to iron out planning applications was ‘the way’ to get approval for building projects and that the States must ‘do better’ in future.
The minister turned down the plans for the new hospital, which were submitted by the Health Department, after an independent planning inspector raised concerns about the size of the building and the impact it would have on St Helier.
During an Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny panel hearing, Deputy Tracey Vallois asked Deputy Luce to explain his feelings on whether the departments had worked closely enough on the project.
The minister at first joked that he ‘could not possibly comment’ but went on to say that the States must learn to work together better in the future.
‘It must be hugely frustrating for the public to see a States department have an application put forward that was refused by another States department,’ he said.
‘I know of one developer who won’t submit an application unless they already have support in my department. That’s the way to get your application approved. We need to work closer on these issues and I very much hope that we will do in the future.’
He added: ‘This is not criticism of anyone in particular, or the civil servants, but as a government we need to be better to make sure schemes move forward as quickly as they can.
‘It must be hugely frustrating for something as important as the hospital to come forward and to be refused.’
The minister added that he would be submitting the newly lodged development plans for the new hospital to another public planning inquiry.
‘It’s another huge scheme and will certainly be worthy of a public inquiry,’ he said.
Earlier this month, new States chief executive Charlie Parker announced plans for a reorganisation of the States that would involve the Environment Department being absorbed into a larger Growth, Housing and Island Environment Department, which would take responsibility for special infrastructure projects.
During the hearing, Deputy Luce said that he hoped the reorganisation would get States departments working together better but he still needed clarification on how the proposed reforms would affect ministerial responsibility.
‘I need to have it better explained to me, as I still don’t understand how it is going to work. But it is aiming to take us away from the silo mentality and that can only be a good thing,’ he said.
‘Working together will achieve efficiencies, and I’m all in favour of that. But I need to understand it a bit more, including how the ministerial roles will sit on top of a newly structured civil service.’