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Stop putting growth before environment, says minister

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JERSEY needs to stop putting financial interests ahead of the environment and produce a stringent population policy if the Island’s coastline is to be protected from overdevelopment, the Environment Minister has warned.

Deputy John Young

And Deputy John Young has today criticised the previous Council of Ministers for what he says is their inaction on environmental issues – especially the rising population. He said a failure to bring forward a population policy leading to ‘uncontrolled growth’ has meant the impact on the environment has become ‘more and more severe’. The Island’s population reached a record 106,800 last year – up almost 20,000 since the turn of the millennium – fuelled by net migration of more than 1,000 people per year.

Despite the increase, the agricultural and hospitality sectors are struggling to recruit enough staff and there are plans to bring in Nepalese workers to support farmers.

Speaking from Guernsey after the Wilder Islands environmental conference in Alderney, Deputy Young stopped short of saying he would sign the National Trust for Jersey’s new Join Hands petition – which aims to get the signatures of 42,000 Islanders to represent a continuous human chain, standing finger tip to finger tip around Jersey’s 44.36-mile coastline – but said that he backed its message.

And the minister also called for tighter planning policies – such as restrictions on the size of replacement dwellings on development sites – to help mitigate against the impact of coastal and rural developments.

‘There are those who are happy to turn Jersey into Hong Kong for financial gain and those who want to protect its natural beauty and environment,’ he said.

‘The tensions between the pressure of development to fuel economic growth and meet demand on our beautiful Island have increased dramatically in recent years.

‘People want a preservation of the Island life they know and also a certain quality of life. At the end of the day, as a society we have choices. Which matters most – is it having development and having a vibrant economy or is it respecting our quality of life and having a sustainable environment?

‘I think the public have to choose between having a certain materialistic sense of living and our environment. We are often seeing large 21,000 sq ft developments with pools by the sea. Is this really what we want for the Island? I don’t want to put all the blame on the wealthy, it’s a problem for the whole Island.’

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Deputy Young said he remembered a time when the States had an ‘environmental adviser’. He said the absence of such a role now but the presence of economic advisers demonstrated Jersey’s priorities.

‘We have a Fiscal Policy Panel, where is the environmental version?,’ he said. ‘There is no question about it, we have put the environment second to the Island’s financial growth. That needs to be readdressed.’

Asked if he would sign the petition, which will go live on Sunday, days after the ten-year anniversary of the Line in the Sand protest, Deputy Young said: ‘It would be like signing a petition against myself. If I were not in government I would be doing a petition myself but I am the Environment Minister and I have to deal with these challenges. I have made my personal views clear.

‘I cannot wave a magic wand, but if 42,000 make their voices clear and express their views that will be influential.’

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He added: ‘Everyone knows my personal views. There is no question that in Jersey financial and economic issues carry the sway and I think that balance needs to be addressed.’

Former Environment Minister Steve Luce agreed that the population needs controlling but he said it had to grow to support the Island’s economy and ‘growing it as slowly as possible was the least worst option’.

He added: ‘If we really want to stop developing in the green zone and the national park altogether then the consequences of that have to be considered. If you are not going to build there we have to build more in the urban areas and the same people who argue that we shouldn’t build in the green zone or national park will say we should not build high-rises. Something has to give.’

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