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Planning panel split decision results in rejection of farmworkers’ housing

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A PLANNING application to build agricultural accommodation at a farm in the countryside was turned down on Thursday because it was contrary to Island Plan policy that prohibits new development in the green zone.

Planning permission to build staff accommodation at Willow Farm has been denied

The farmer behind the application, Charlie Gallichan of Woodside Farms, who is the largest supplier of fresh local produce in the Channel Islands, says the decision is a serious threat to the survival of the agricultural industry in Jersey.

He was applying for eight two-bedroom and two three-bedroom units of accommodation at Willow Farm to the north of Handois Reservoir in St Lawrence, owned by fellow farmer Chris Le Marquand.

Mr Gallichan farms the surrounding land and uses facilities at his colleague’s premises for his business. The application was supported by the Jersey Farmers Union and Jersey Business who both said the accommodation was essential for the future of the company.

The four-strong Planning Applications Panel was split over the matter yesterday, with Deputy Scott Wickenden and St Martin Constable Karen Shenton Stone voting in favour while Deputy Richard Rondel and committee chairman Deputy Russell Labey both voted against it. In such circumstances the Planning officer’s recommendation, which was for refusal, stands.

Speaking after the decision, Mr Gallichan, the sixth generation of his family in 130 years to head the Trinity-based agricultural concern, said he was disappointed.

‘We are going to have to consider our next move, and quickly, because we are expecting 60 to 80 staff arriving in January and we have nowhere to house them,’ he said.

‘We are trying to do a good job and grow the business to secure the Island’s food security but we can’t do that without the people the industry needs to do the work.’

Mr Gallichan became the Island’s biggest supplier of fresh mixed vegetables in July 2015 when he led a farmers’ initiative to fill the gap in the market when the previous supplier, Amal Grow, shut down. He invested £2.8 million in expanding his business and was backed with a combined States loan/grant of £450,000. Woodside Farms now supplies about 80 per cent of local produce sold by Waitrose, the Co-op and other supermarket chains, wholesalers, restaurants and hotels.

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‘Planning are aware of our requirements and future plans for more staff accommodation at Woodside but we are not ready to start that due to various reasons such as having to build processing and packaging facilities since we took over from Amal Grow,’ he said.

‘We work closely with Willow Farm, which is a brown field site and readily available to be built on.

‘We need some answers and we need support, and quickly, because without accommodation on farms for the workers we need the industry can’t survive.’

St Lawrence Constable Deidre Mezbourian was also on the committee at yesterday’s monthly consideration of applications, but excused herself as, along with David Vibert, who lives next to Willow Farm, she spoke against Woodside’s proposal.

They were largely concerned that the accommodation would be let to non-agricultural workers, with Mrs Mezbourian adding that she was ‘very much opposed to development in the green zone’.

Paula Thelwell

By Paula Thelwell
author

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