That was the message from John Hollis, who was part of a panel discussion about such an agency locally at a Guernsey Institute of Directors meeting yesterday.
Mr Hollis was one member of a Policy & Resources sub-committee looking at some of the issues that would need to be addressed by a development agency – but stressed he was yesterday speaking in a personal capacity.
Responding to a question on the issue from Deputy Lindsay de Sausmarez, he stressed the need for sustainable communities. ‘I don’t think you take a decision just on economic grounds. You have to balance the right group across all those areas.
‘Otherwise your output ends up like part of Manchester city centre – a load of cheap, ugly tower blocks in a place, I’m sorry for any Mancunians here, that’s virtually unliveable,’ he said.
‘So, I think you can get pockets horribly wrong if you’re just driven down a pure economic route. And it’s back to laying down the outputs that you require and how you would judge the outputs from that group. And I think that’s why economic development has to be balanced by environment, as well as financing on there.’
Mr Hollis also offered some broader views on development agencies, saying they could be ‘a bit like a marriage’.
‘The scope for getting it horribly wrong at times because people haven’t done or gone through that process before is great. It needs to work in a partnership basis, a true partnership basis that recognises the expertise on both sides and the responsibilities,’ he said.
‘On such a dance, it’s really important that the person who’s controlling the end products and the outputs – which has to be the States – has the ability to step in at any stage, that they feel uncomfortable and that’s what they’ve got. Plus they have an oversight role as well.
‘But also, as the UN highlights, on a number of these projects, get the benefit of either private sector speed in some of the areas, private sector capital in some of the areas, efficiencies of working together in some of the areas and remove some of the barriers that everyone has experienced in Guernsey over the last 10-plus years on infrastructure developments and major developments actually taking place and getting something done.’
It was a ‘hell of a job’ to expect 40 deputies to do everything in Guernsey, he added.
‘There is a need to leverage skills and if you do it in a careful way, this is an opportunity that could be very significantly beneficial for Guernsey.’
Pointing to the Docklands development in London, Mr Hollis said: ‘What they deliberately didn’t do is to have a massive master plan. Because they said at the time: “There is no way we’ll deliver everything if we have a fixed master plan and wait until we have that. We need enough of a plan to pick off areas that will fit in with our overall objectives that the state set and of sustainable communities. But we go fast for a number of those individual areas”.’
Locally, it would be down to the development agency – if approved by politicians – to pick those areas off with government and hopefully be established within 12 months. ‘I can imagine a few already that are quite easy to go for around both St Sampson’s and in St Peter Port,’ he said.
Referring to the set-up of the agency, he said: ‘I would hope that it’s put together by the end of this year. And the objectives, as I say, will be set by the States, and I would hope they would start picking off short-term things and capitalise on some of the work that’s been done in the past and that they would get those under way within 12 months.’
He also noted that the outcome of any future plans for Guernsey Ports would need to be considered by the agency if established due to knock-on implications.