Chief Pleas changes and property problems

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SARK is to hold a vin d'honneur for retiring seneschal Reg Guille.

SARK is to hold a vin d'honneur for retiring seneschal Reg Guille.

Guernsey's Royal Court swore in Jeremy La Trobe Bateman, his successor in that revamped office, last week.

The 'shuffle' follows the Chief Pleas decision to split the historic role of seneschal and restrict the holder of that office to presiding over the Seneschal's Court and acting as the island's coroner in the conducting of inquests.

The function of presiding over the legislature was removed and at the end of the month the 27 conseillers will meet to elect a president of Chief Pleas. Nominations for that office close at 4pm today and it is widely expected that Lt-Col Guille will be a candidate.

That election will be the first time the renovated Assembly Room will have been used.

It will be formally opened by Seigneur Michael Beaumont just prior to the 27 February sitting, which will be followed by the vin d'honneur.

The Seneschal's Court also sits there and it is used for wedding ceremonies too.

There have been the customary Sark murmurings about the cost of this project – I heard suggested it was a ludicrous £50,000 over budget, which sounds like the drunk talking – but some folk knock just about anything that is done to improve matters.


The truth is that the accommodation was little short of disgraceful and particularly so when one looks at the sort of distinguished visitors likely to be invited inside.

It is entirely proper that court and legislature sittings should be conducted in appropriate accommodation and, given a little sensible promotion of a more positive nature than some that emanates from this place, the premises will also provide a nice location for wedding ceremonies.

As to how much it's going to cost, it would be nice of the clockwork critics – wind them up and off they go in their customary repetitive fashion – broke the habit of a lifetime and waited until the accounts are published before indulging in premature articulation.

Someone drew my attention last week to something in the Seneschal's Court notice box.


It recorded that the transfer or assignment of a property lease had been registered with the court and, presumably, the percentage tax on that transaction had been paid.

Not that it's material to this column, but the property was Myrtle Cottage and it is my understanding that it is one of only half a small handful of properties to change hands in the last couple of years.

It might be a coincidence, but the bottom seemed to fall out of the property market as soon as the words 'land reform' were uttered.

Such is the way of things in Sark, the debate that was supposed to initiate never actually materialised.

In its absence a state of limbo exists, with many landowners on the defensive against what they perceive to be a move to give the leaseholders occupying property on their land the absolute legal right to purchase the freehold.

With that sort of backcloth, there is perhaps little wonder that the market has slowed to a virtual stop. The result is that property transfer tax revenue is negligible, yet the expenditure it was designed to finance – the seigneur's 'stipend' awarded when he relinquished the treizieme – continues its index-linked climb.

Time for a statement of intent from Chief Pleas, I'd have thought.

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