Many Islanders seem to be unaware of the revolution raging around them, but the result of all this activity is that we are on track to a bright future.
It’s all there in black and white in one of the numerous reports about the new Island Plan, and I quote: ‘The Island Plan promotes the sustainable development of land and buildings to maintain and enhance Jersey as a special place, that faces the future; values and protects its environment and unique Island identity; and acts with confidence to create the homes and jobs that sustain family and community life.’
So, all we have to do is wait for the new Island Plan and it is job done. We can sit back and relax and watch our government solve all the big issues of the day because now they have a plan. In fact, they not only have a plan, they have a plan about a plan, a sustainability appraisal for the bridging Island Plan, a sustainability appraisal for the Jersey bridging Island Plan (which is totally different), and the bridging Island Plan Sustainability Appraisal technical annex.
This is serious stuff, and obviously one plan is not sufficient to replace the existing Island Plan that we’ve all come to love over the years. So now we are a third of the way through a comprehensive public consultation and Islanders are being encouraged to also comment on all the other bumpf around the masterplan.
That should result in a spatial plan about what we can do with the space available, but not what we are actually going to do with it. That comes later, of course, after any changes the planning inspector might want, and ministers give their final approval and the States then actually decides, which may be another nightmare of Groundhog Day proportions.
After all that, we will have a spanking new Island Plan for landowners and developers to try and find ways around, and that will cover two whole years, before we go through a similar process again. That leaves just one simple question for the planning authorities – why?
It is not as if we lack a comprehensive plan already. It may be showing its age, and it could do with amending and adjusting, but that should have been done during the lifetime of the plan. We didn’t need to halt everything and start all over again.
That could have been necessary if circumstances had changed so much that a plan drawn up more than a decade ago could no longer cope and a totally new one was required. But that is not the case. The Island is still the same size and it still has to cope with an increasing population and too few houses, and that could be tackled by using the existing planning powers more effectively. Creating a new plan should definitely not be an excuse for relaxing controls in this area, and the opposite is probably required. In any case, don’t the planners know what is good and bad about the current plan, so that they don’t have to ask Islanders and numerous consultants how they can swipe the slate clean and start again?
Once a legislative framework is agreed, there should rarely be the need to scrap everything and go through the expense and time of introducing something entirely new every few years. That applies to most of the government’s responsibilities, but particularly planning, where you can’t stop and start again.
There may just be a few responsibilities of government where a regular overhaul is necessary, and the States Employment Board, for example, might be one. Perhaps they need to start all over again after having spent many years refining the fine art of hiring and getting rid of senior civil servants.
Recent evidence suggests that they still haven’t got it right, and one wonders how they got themselves into the position where they apparently had to pay off the most senior public servant even though they did not want to. The senior public servant obviously knew his way around the corridors of power. Didn’t anyone else?
Obviously, you can never be entirely sure that the laws put in place for a particular policy will always be just right. They will need to be amended on occasions, although not as frequently as the diary might suggest.
When you come to laws relating to housing, offices, farmland, open space and all other bits of land (and sea) the need for dramatic change should be far less frequent. No, there is only one significant reason why the planners want a new plan. They want to be able to amend the old one, redraw boundaries, change land use and all the other intricacies of planning in order to squeeze more development land out of this tiny Island. This is already obvious from the sites they have earmarked for development all of them bar one in the green zone. They would not stand a chance if they were stand-alone propositions being decided upon by the States, but having a new all-embracing Island Plan approved by Uncle Tom Cobley and all opens the door to even more development. Everyone will accept how painstaking the process has been in order to reach the nirvana the planners want. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and the planning authority has to try to find more development land for the good of the Island and its economy. But many people believe that despite the shortage of land for housing, the Island is already over-developed, and the best option would be to say no to any more land being lost. That would force the planners to do better with the space we already have available and get rid of some of the ridiculous restrictions including height in some selected areas.
The planners already have a very difficult job, but not until they admit that enough is enough and there is no more land available to build on, will anyone else in the Island take much notice and agree it is unsustainable to carry on squeezing in even more buildings.
What is most concerning about the amount of resources devoted to preparing the Island Plan is that it could divert attention away from a new plan that the Island most definitely needs and is not on the regular calendar of to dos, and that is a comprehensive economic development plan.
That would be closely related to the Island Plan and maybe should supersede it. Of course, an economic plan can’t be handled in the same way as a plan for buildings and land, but it certainly needs the same amount of effort, if not more.