Call for an independent environmental regulator

A REPORT calling for the creation of an independent environmental regulator has rekindled controversy over changes to the structure of government implemented by former chief executive Charlie Parker.

Save Our Shoreline supplied photographs. SOSJ Chairman Michael du Pré test the Bellozanne outflow  (SOSJ). (30683283)
Save Our Shoreline supplied photographs. SOSJ Chairman Michael du Pré test the Bellozanne outflow (SOSJ). (30683283)

In a report spanning ten years published today, environmental campaigners Save Our Shoreline Jersey say that government should follow the examples of the Financial Services Commission, the Children’s Commissioner and the Data Commissioner by setting up an independent body to monitor compliance with environmental legislation and international standards.

They argue that environmental regulation would be stronger if the government was not itself responsible for these functions while simultaneously having an involvement in delivering public projects. They cite the example of the Horizon development by the States-owned Jersey Development Company where, they claim, although contractors were prosecuted as a result of water pollution, work would have been stopped immediately if the project had been a private one.

Although Environment Minister John Young had not read the SOS Jersey report, he said that the principle of having effective and independent regulation was a good one but that the cost of creating a body like the JFSC to monitor compliance with environmental legislation would be ‘enormous’. He said he favoured instead an internal restructuring that would strengthen what he called ‘the demonstrable independence of environmental regulation’.

Deputy Young has asked his officers to report back by the end of his tenure as minister – which comes to an end next year ­– on ways in which the integrated functions of planning and environment might be recovered after changes implemented by former chief executive Charlie Parker.

‘We have spent three years working with the target operating model where we have lost the integrated functions of planning and environment and it is now a component part of Infrastructure, Housing and Environment where there is not that structural separation between the “doing” part of the government and regulation,’ the minister said.

Deputy Young said that his officers, who were making ‘real improvements’ in environmental regulation, were having to work under ‘confusing structures’ introduced by Mr Parker which were ‘less than ideal’, making them responsible to more than one minister. ‘No man can serve two masters, far less three or four,’ Deputy Young said.

The Save Our Shoreline Jersey report also makes claims of ‘political pressures and possible conflicts arising from personal reporting pressures’ for officers in the Environment Department but it argues that the government should go much further than restoring departmental boundaries which were in place at the start of the period it analyses.

It wants instead to see an independent regulator which it says would provide greater reassurance to the public.

‘A lack of trust is inevitable when no action is taken (or there is a reluctance to act even in the face of hard evidence) when waterborne or airborne pollution events are reported. Our government departments must always act appropriately and be seen to do so. In addition, our government departments must not be seen to favour contractors or projects that have political support and we can only speculate as to why they might not be acting in the way we would expect them to,’ SOS Jersey say.

The main focus of the report is the impact of activity at the Waterfront and at La Collette on the waters of the south-east coast, covering the protected Ramsar site.

It publishes data based on the analysis, over a ten-year period, of pacific oysters, common cockles and slipper limpets monitored at three separate sites, and summarises the position: ‘While recognising that for cost reasons SOS Jersey was constrained in the number of samples it could take from each area, a pattern has emerged which suggests that there has been an increase of the levels of heavy metals in three of the species sampled, and in most of the areas where samples were taken since 2019.’

Based on the results of the research, they argue that there is now sufficient evidence to justify more detailed monitoring of shellfish in the area.

The report also claims that the public and the States were misled over discharges made into St Aubin’s Bay which it blames for the proliferation of sea lettuce.

‘As can be seen from [the] data, high levels of nitrates were regularly discharged into St Aubin’s Bay,’ the report states. ‘As high levels were not consistently found in the other outflows, it can be shown that the Bellozanne outflow was mainly responsible for the discharge – and, during hot weather, huge swathes of sea lettuce growth through most of the summers in question. This situation indicated the need for an independent regulator as it was clear that the public and the States of Jersey were being misled.’

While the focus of the report is on coastal areas, it also comments on the situation created at the Airport by chemicals used in firefighting foam and it contrasts the approach taken to the resulting PFAS contamination in Jersey and Guernsey.

SOS Jersey said: ‘Costly soil remediation is years overdue and has become increasingly relevant, if not inevitable, as the level of PFAS in drinking water deemed acceptable by the EU and USA has dropped rapidly in recent years to be nearly approaching the actual level in Jersey.

‘Being a “forever chemical”, PFAS is either being recycled through the environment until it eventually drains into the sea, where it continues to cause environmental damage, or being assimilated into animals and humans. Despite the cost of remediation, Guernsey, which had a similar problem with firefighting foam contaminating an area adjacent to their airport, excavated the soil and cleaned up the area, replacing the soil.

‘Jersey’s government, however, did not take the same approach, and it has recently been confirmed that the government signed a Deed of Settlement with the US manufacturers 3M, manufacturers of the synthetic foam that was used at the Airport and which caused the pollution. In January 2005, after a “behind closed doors” debate, the government accepted a payment of £2.6 million from 3M.’

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