'Cracking Jersey’s housing crisis, a drug problem and the mechanics of choosing a new Chief Minister'

John Henwood

By John Henwood

IN 1970 I was among the fortunate many who were able to buy their first home with the help of the States Housing Loan scheme. If memory serves, at that time one was able to borrow up to £7,000 on a property whose value was no more than £10,000.

By today’s standards, when a parking space can cost over £25,000, it seems ridiculous and unbelievable that a decent home could be bought for such a sum. Even applying inflation over the intervening years, that £10,000 is £140,000 today, while the average price for a two-bedroom home is £605,000. House values have exceeded inflation by a factor of five.

Against those statistics, the recently announced First Step scheme, with just £10 million pounds available to help first-time buyers, will barely scratch the surface of the problem. Still, it is a start and will be warmly welcomed by those who benefit. The scheme will provide a conditional loan of up to 40% of the cost of a home.

Taking the mean two-bedroom house value, the scheme will help only around 40 people, a few more if the requirement is for a smaller house or flat. Helping 100 buyers acquire a two-bedroom home with the 70% I was fortunate to be able to borrow would cost around £43 million plus interest. Even helping 100 buyers would make only a tiny dent in the problem.

And even if the current projection of “only” around 4,000 homes being needed by 2040 is correct, the size of the issue is still huge. The solution is to build more homes – and build faster. The Bridging Island Plan identified several sites for development, but this was not nearly enough.

Environmentalists will rightly defend green spaces, but there are other opportunities, for instance those areas of unused and in many cases derelict greenhouses. Most became redundant when we could no longer compete with subsidised EU horticulturalists and will never again be used for the purpose for which they were built. Some sacrifices will have to be made and the government has the unenviable task of deciding what is more important: cracking the housing crisis or the preservation of some sites which might be deemed sensitive.

Getting in line

Last October, I wrote about the exceptionally poor service provided by the pharmacy at the Hospital. My article poked a hole in the dam, as it was quickly followed by a flow of similar comments on social media. Sometime later, the Health Department announced measures to improve the facility.

Evidently, they have failed. At a recent visit to the Hospital, I noted a long queue snaking down the corridor from the pharmacy; I counted those present, and in addition to eight people sitting down, there were a further 20 standing in line. Those waiting for prescriptions are generally not well and some of those who were queueing looked quite poorly.

Four months ago, I calculated the average waiting time to be three minutes per person and now it seems pretty much the same. So, those at the back of the queue were going to wait up to hour, possibly longer. With all the major problems surrounding the Hospital, surely this is an easy one to fix – so why isn’t anyone doing it?

Handling change

With the dust having settled after the election of a new government, we should not overlook the widely expressed view that the process of appointing the new Chief Minister is flawed.

After the vote of no confidence against Deputy Kristina Moore had been upheld, the time in which prospective candidates were required to file their nomination paper was ridiculously short; Members interested in the position had about 22 hours, of which seven or eight would normally be spent sleeping.

One hopes confidence votes will be less frequent in future, but it is important to have appropriate procedures in place.

Expecting a candidate to prepare a comprehensive manifesto after having collected the necessary signatures to his or her nomination paper in such a short time is ridiculously over optimistic. That all three candidates did well in the circumstances suggests they had some presentiment of the way the VoNC would go.

The question-and-answer session after each presentation was a bit of a joke, with some Members supporting favoured candidates by asking fatuous questions which, they knew, their contender relished. Then asking the same question of the others, often phrased slightly differently. There must be a better way, a matter the Privileges and Procedures Committee should be considering. To start that ball rolling, here is a suggestion.

On the fall of a Chief Minister and government during the normal term of office, the States Assembly should be prorogued for a specific period, say ten days. This would prevent the dismissed government from making any ministerial decisions in the time before a new leader and government is appointed.

Prospective candidates would have time for reflection and to canvas support, not only within the House, but among their constituents. It would also provide more time to discuss their objectives before gathering the necessary number of signatures for their nomination.

The nominees should make their case as they do now, in front of the whole Assembly, with the order chosen by lot and, importantly, the other candidates present. This should be followed by a question-and-answer session along the lines of those at election hustings. This would be much more illuminating than the present sterile and repetitive arrangement.

There may well be other ways to improve on the existing flawed process, but the issue should not be pushed aside in the hope or expectation that it will never happen again.

Foreshore fiasco ends

Finally, a pat on the back for Infrastructure Minister Andy Jehan, who has ended an injustice initiated by one of his predecessors, former Deputy Eddie Noel, that was described by the States Complaints Panel four years ago as “unjust, oppressive, improperly discriminatory”.

Sir Philip Bailhache was even more direct, describing the action of Jersey Property Holdings as “extortion”. The money demanded of two home owners for their access to the foreshore has been refunded with interest.

Never forget, the foreshore was given by the Crown to the people of Jersey, not to Jersey Property Holdings.

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