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‘No political will’ to tackle population, warns former States adviser

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DECADES of political indecision and government policy that makes economic growth a priority is threatening the Island’s quality of life and natural environment, a former senior government adviser has warned.

National Trust launch of Plemont book at the Frances Le Sueur centre combined with the 10 anniversary of the Line in the Sand. Mike Romeril. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (26135110)

From 1978 to 2003, Dr Michael Romeril’s job was to protect Jersey’s natural environment as the Island’s conservation officer, with the brief of conserving St Ouen’s Bay, and then, from 1995, as the first States environmental adviser.

Forty years on he is dismayed that generations of political leaders have put economic growth through migration above protecting the Island’s biggest assets – the environment and natural landscapes.

Dr Romeril believes that a new government department – led by a minister for sustainability – should be created to underpin all political decision making.

He said: ‘I feel sad and somewhat angry that so little has been done. The corporate mindset of the States has always been to give priority to economic growth and mostly it has had no resolve to seriously address the population issue –and this has been a key issue going back at least to the 1970s.’

However, he believes the Island can reach a better balance between economic growth and environmental concerns, but that this would take a change in the political mindset.

As well as providing environmental advice to States committees and departments, Dr Romeril’s two main tasks were to produce an Environmental Charter and a Sustainable Development Strategy for the Island. Although both were unanimously approved by the States they were never fully implemented.

He said: ‘I do think that there would be a benefit in having a minister for sustainability with a strong brief, and support, to make it happen. I look at the proposed Government Plan 2020-23, and especially the section on the environment, and there are so many similarities with the Sustainability Strategy, which was produced with such a comprehensive consultation process and no little expense. Get on with it!’

Dr Romeril was born and educated in Jersey until he left to continue his education at the University of Nottingham. He went on to hold a number of environmental posts.

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He moved back to the UK when he retired in 2003, but keeps in touch with Island life and he was back earlier this month OCTOBER for the tenth anniversary of the ‘A Line in the Sand’ public demonstration against over-development of the coastline.

He says he went home to Dorset feeling sad having seen the consequences on his homeland of the rapid rate of population growth.

He said: ‘Population has been identified as a key strategic issue going back very many years with promises of action. But there has been no political will to seriously address the issue and especially to find solutions. There is no easy solution – but it is not impossible.

‘Other countries in the world can control immigration, so it is a nonsense for [Senator] Ian Gorst to say that Brexit has been a key reason for the delay in Jersey’s population policy.

‘A review of JEP headlines over the years indicates population has been a key issue at least back to the 1970s when I returned to the Island. There is, and has been for a long time, a mindset in the States that puts economic growth as its priority policy.’

Paula Thelwell

By Paula Thelwell
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