Excavations at South Hill a breach of planning law?

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The States Assembly had yesterday started debating Senator Steve Pallett’s proposition to provide a skatepark at Les Quennevais Sports Centre and an amendment to locate it instead at South Hill when it emerged that exploratory work was already taking place at the St Helier site.

The government has since confirmed that, although the excavations there are in the process of being filled in, a retrospective planning application is now being made.

This will come from Infrastructure, Housing and Environment, the department which – in the government reorganisation – embraces both Economic Development and Environment.

But Environment Minister John Young said he had already instructed his officers to investigate, as he had received ‘lots of complaints’ about excavation work at the site.

Speaking to the JEP, he said: ‘It has been drawn to my attention that there has been some work on site which I have asked to be investigated because it does require a planning application which I am informed has not been made.’

Heritage organisations have suggested that the South Hill site could be of geological importance and therefore not suitable for a skate part. Deputy Young said that this ‘suggested a situation where we are not paying enough respect to our heritage’.

He added that he would now publish a recent independent report by consultants ARUP, commissioned to support current work on the Island Plan, which he said was ‘very critical’ of the way that the government looked after heritage in the Island.

The report, which goes beyond immediate planning issues, highlights a lack of protection for heritage resources – including the continued absence of legislation around treasure finds and the protection of marine heritage, and the lack of renovation grants – as well as drawing attention to the shortage of government staff devoted to caring for the Island’s heritage.

‘We really need to put more weight into it. All these things are covered in detail in the independent report and I think it is so important that I’m going to publish it later this month,’ the minister said.

Deputy Young, who said he would not take part in the skatepark debate because of his possible involvement at a later stage in the planning process, also expressed his frustration at the Planning Law as it currently stands.

‘My concern – this is a concern and I’m not taking a position on it – is that the heritage groups don’t have any right of appeal under the law so we could be in a position, if the Planning Committee approved the proposal, that there would not be a planning inspector review of it under appeal. The only opportunity I would have would be to call the application into a planning inquiry,’ he said.

The minister is trying to amend the Planning Law to introduce key heritage groups as statutory consultees on matters affecting listed sites.

Meanwhile, Deputy Kirsten Morel, Assistant Economic Development Minister with responsibility for culture, confirmed that he had not been involved in any discussions with his minister or with Deputy Raymond about the potential heritage impact of the skatepark.

Last week geologist Dr John Renouf described the area at South Hill as ‘a single landscape entity of inestimable geological importance’.

He said: ‘It is abundantly clear that the proposition to change the site of the recommended skate park to South Hill from Les Quennevais was not based on proper research of the issues… let alone all the other relevant archaeological and historical and environmental matters.’

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