By Ted Vibert
EVERY now and then, someone contacts me about a problem they are having with one of our forms of government, whether it is in the parish of St Helier or somewhere else in the Island. Often these people are at the end of their tether trying to get officialdom to take action on their behalf – and I assume that people feel that as an ex-States Member I will have some influence on their behalf or know a better way of tackling their problem.
Generally speaking, I advise them to take their problems to Citizens Advice Jersey, as I have personal knowledge of their excellence, having been a voluntary adviser there for some years under their then chief executive Francis Le Gresley, who later became a popular Senator in charge of Social Security .
The training I received when I was sent to Southampton to undergo their Citizens Advice training scheme resonated perfectly with me because it mirrored the training I received as a junior reporter on the JEP at the age of 18 by the then news editor, Jim Scriven, who constantly repeated his mantra to me: ‘Check your facts, Edward (he never called me Ted). Check your facts. Check your facts.’ The same lesson was imparted to me during my spell on the Daily Express in Fleet Street, where, in the busy newsroom at the time, there was a large notice on the notice board that said: ‘A MAN’S JUDGMENT IS ONLY AS GOOD AS HIS INFORMATION.’
So, the case I have been involved in recently is so appalling that I found it hard to contain my anger when I stepped into the shoes of the couple concerned by attending a meeting on their behalf with some of the people whose duty it was to protect them.
They are a couple who live on the edge of the St Peter’s Technical Park only 50 yards from factory units whose daily activities they claim are contravening a set of rules which the Island Development Committee (now Planning) laid down in 1984 when consent was given for the Dronfield knitting factory to be demolished and the site developed as a technical park.
When you study the 12 conditions they imposed on the use of the factory units within the park you realise that the then committee clearly understood the danger to the nearby residents if an ‘open book’ was given to allow occupying businesses to do what they liked. So they effectively drew a protective ring around the park so that residents nearby would not have their quality of life damaged by their activities.
The couple who asked for my help have for months complained to Planning about four conditions which they claim are consistently being broken and about which the authorities will take no action.
That the character of the industrial usage shall not cause detriment to the amenities of the area by virtue of noise, vibration, smell, fumes, soot, ash, dust, grit or effluent.
That noise levels should not exceed those recommended in current British Standards relating to industrial noise in mixed residential areas.
That the use now approved should be limited to light industrial and may not be used for any other purpose.
That all storage and other operations shall take place within the units hereby permitted and the open area surrounding the building shall be retained and maintained for those purposes shown on the approved plans to the satisfaction of the Island Development Committee.
The term ‘light industrial’ is clearly defined in the Planning and Building (General Development) (Jersey) Order 2011 as ‘any process that is necessary to make an article or part of an article’.
The couple point out that when Normans applied to occupy a unit there from which to operate their business as a builders’ supplier they were refused by Planning on the grounds that they ‘did not manufacture anything’. Soon after, a company which also did not manufacture anything had their application approved and is one of the companies which the couple claim is causing the problems.
The introduction to the area of the company that cooks all the food for the hospitals and care homes in Jersey, which the couple claim create so many odours that they have to keep their doors and windows closed to stop them permeating their home, and makes it impossible for them to use their lovely garden has ‘seriously caused detriment to the amenities of the area’.
The late Nigel Quérée, a former highly respected Senator and a long-time president of the IDC, investigated the actions of Planning officials on behalf of the couple and wrote, just prior to his sad death earlier this year, that he was ‘disgusted and ashamed that this situation should arise in Jersey’.
During his recent election campaign Deputy Ian Gorst took up the couple’s complaints and has been trying to make sure that their concerns are being listened to.
In view of a senior planner’s unbelievable reaction to the couple’s legitimate insistence, one can appreciate their feelings of hopelessness that their complaints will ever be taken seriously. This senior planning officer’s response was that the 1984 conditions were ‘flawed, a nonsense and unenforceable’.
The urgent job the new Environment Minister, Deputy Jonathan Renouf, should do is go into his department and thoroughly investigate what is an absolute disgrace and shake the tree. Very hard. And those who fall should fall for their arrogance and wilful neglect of their duty to protect citizens from breaches of their own regulations. And will he do this? So far the chances don’t look that good – oh dear, the Jersey Way again.