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£70m town plan: Minister unaware of ‘heritage issues’

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PLANS for one of St Helier’s biggest redevelopment projects might have been put to an independent inspector had ‘heritage issues’ been highlighted earlier, according to the Environment Minister.

Le Masurier's planned development (26056293)

A decision on the £70 million Le Masurier development of Bath Street – which is set to include 145 flats and a 122-bedroom Premier Inn hotel – is due to be made by the Planning Committee on Wednesday.

However, the JEP has learned that usual listing procedures were not followed, with the Environment Minister unaware that a Regency-era building – which would be demolished if the scheme goes ahead – had been recommended for listed status.

In July, Jersey Heritage had recommended that 90 Bath Street be listed. The recommendation had been held for almost eight weeks before being rejected on the same day that his department published its support for the development.

But, Environment Minister John Young has said he would have considered referring the application to an independent inspector had he been aware of the heritage issues surrounding the development.

The department is now considered introducing an appeals process that would allow heritage groups to question decisions not to list buildings.

‘I was entirely unaware that this had taken place. I have not seen the documents. I have no idea when the decision was made and, if what is said is true, it gives me great concern,’ said Deputy Young.

He said the progress of the planning application – which is now due to be considered by the Planning Committee on Wednesday – was too advanced for it to be referred to an independent inspector and that although he accepted that he was politically accountable, it was not possible for him to become involved in matters which were legally the responsibility of the committee.

The Société Jersiaise and the National Trust for Jersey approached Jersey Heritage to request an appraisal of 90 Bath Street, a building that adjoins one of those already listed, following publication of Le Masurier’s planning application in June this year.

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In an official report to Planning dated 30 July, Jersey Heritage concluded that the building should be listed because of its contribution to the wider group value of Regency properties. That advice was based on guidance from an independent planning inspector in relation to other historic buildings in Mulcaster Street.

Such a recommendation would routinely have resulted in a provisional listing being made and a notice being sent to the building’s owners under article 52 of the Planning Law. They would then been allowed to object to the proposed listing, if they wished, before a final decision was taken.

However, the procedure was not followed because the group director of regulation, Andy Scate, decided that there had been no change in the building since previous decisions not to list it, and that in relation to the group value ‘it is not considered that there is a coherent street setting to which this building contributes’.

The department is free to depart from the listing recommendation because Jersey Heritage – which declined to comment on the detail of the application – acts in an advisory capacity only. However, a spokesperson admitted that it was ‘extremely rare’ for a listing recommendation to be discarded without formally seeking the owner’s views.

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‘The purpose of our SLA with Jersey Heritage is to secure impartial, objective advice and generally the professional recommendation is followed in the first instance,’ the spokesperson added.

Deputy Young said: ‘What I can say is that I have told the officer concerned that I want the committee that has this decision to make to have all the information and see all the documents and have the opportunity to question the relevant officers about it.

‘Had I known about this earlier, I would have considered whether this was a candidate for being referred to a planning inspector. I am not expressing a view one way or another on the application. What I am talking about is the probity of the process.’

The minister has now asked officers to research an appeals procedure that would allow heritage groups to question such decisions in future. At present, the law allows property owners to raise objections to proposed listings but does not allow those supporting a listing to appeal against the department’s decision not to follow the recommendations of its advisers, Jersey Heritage.

Deputy Young said that changes to the role of Environment Minister, intended to de-politicise the planning process by placing initial decision-making in the hands of the Planning Committee rather than the minister, meant that he was unaware of the extent of the sensitivity of the application until it was too late. ‘I have to admit it. Frankly I didn’t spot it,’ Deputy Young said.

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