'Those politicians with stars in their eyes over the prospect of a tunnel need to think it through'

Anne Southern..Picture

By Anne Southern

I HAVE just returned from Tenerife, where I was made fully aware of our little island’s insignificance. In every exercise class at the hotel, the local teacher asked the participants where they were from. “Jersey” was met with puzzled looks – “Where’s that?” they said, in spite of the fact that “jersey” is Spanish for the woollen garment. So I was rather surprised when my online JEP announced that serious consideration was being given to a tunnel connecting Jersey to Guernsey and France – a feat of engineering we associate with much bigger jurisdictions.

The late lamented journalist Katherine Whitehorn said that to stay young, one should embrace a new idea every day – and I try, really I do, but I find myself in the same position I was in during the latter days of my teaching career. The young thrusting managers, with their eyes on a headship, were forever bouncing with new initiatives, and did not appreciate words of caution from a battle weary, cynical, yet experienced voice saying, “Well we tried that in the 70s but…” or “Have you thought about…?”

But in this case I must raise a few issues that need to be addressed before a penny of taxpayers’ money is wasted on consultations or feasibility studies. I do not question whether it is possible to build a tunnel from an engineering perspective – I’ll leave that to the experts. But are we talking about a road tunnel? As the keyboard warriors on Facebook have been quick to point out, where are these thousands of cars going to go on our congested roads and in our packed car parks? So a rail tunnel? That at least would have the virtue of allowing for greener travel, but don’t let’s imagine you could leave your home in Jersey and be in France within minutes. There would be security and customs checks to deal with. The Eurostar recommends that passengers turn up at least one hour and 15 minutes in advance to complete these.

Because, let’s not forget this, France is a different country with a different language and currency and, since Brexit, free travel is a thing of the past. To claim that tourists could just pop over from the Normandy beaches is unrealistic unless they have passports, which so many Europeans do not. Look at the difficulty we had getting permission for French day-trippers to travel on their identity cards alone. And lovely as it would be to be able to pop over to the continent for lunch (already possible via a RIB) or for a holiday (already possible on the ferry), would such travel generate enough income for the investors? And in terms of food imports, have you seen the queues of lorries at Dover and the problems with the necessary checks?

The big idea is that people could live in Normandy, where there is a lot of space, and work in Jersey – tens of thousands of them. It’s all very well for Deputy Morel to breezily say that the problem of Brexit can be dealt with, but has he spoken to his French counterpart? We no longer have the automatic right to work in each other’s countries. To get French residency you have to pass an exam in French equivalent to A-level. How would the infrastructure cope with a sudden influx of Brits requiring schools and hospitals? And how would these workers feel about paying French taxes? Or are we envisaging recruiting French workers? Do they exist in sufficient numbers? If workers, French or British, were not paying tax in Jersey how would they be contributing to the economy? Since we have had zero-ten it is the taxes paid by employees rather than company tax that make the biggest contribution.

Has anyone spoken to the government of Gibraltar where hundreds of Spanish workers cross the border daily to work? The issue of passports soon filling up with two stamps a day is probably the least of the problems they have to deal with. And at least crossing the border there is just a matter of a short stroll across a runway. I really wouldn’t fancy a commute from Coutances, say, to St Helier.

Allow 45 minutes to drive and park, 75 minutes to get through border control, 20 minutes on the train and then another 30 minutes to get to the office – you’d have to leave home at around 6am to get to the office for 9am. Not a very appealing prospect, and is it necessary when many jobs can be done from anywhere with Wi-Fi?

Would easier travel to Guernsey be more appealing? I won’t say that the best thing about Guernsey is the boat to Herm, and I belong to a couple of organisations where closer links with Guernsey may be useful, but the inevitable cost would mean that popping over would not be quite like driving to St Ouen. And if we are talking about sharing health facilities, the prospect of a multi-site hospital on the island is controversial enough.

So I beg those politicians with stars in their eyes at the prospect of putting their names to a world-class engineering project, to take a pause and just think it through.

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