Guernsey Press

OPINION: What’s wrong with the ‘Guernsey way’?

There’s more to life than uniformity, functionality and financial return, says Horace Camp.


IMAGINE if you will a quiet lane in Torteval bounded each side by a high hedge. On the right-hand side of the lane is a very scruffy, but very beautiful, field hedge. It doesn’t encroach too much on the road and it’s just about time for the farmer to pop along with his sickle and cut it back before he gets a constables’ letter.

There are wall dropworts, ivy, red campion and more varieties of grass than you could shake a stick at. Somewhere behind it all is probably a rough granite wall. No person has designed and planted this, yet it is, as my dad would say, a picture no artist could paint. The flora is a random concoction built up over a century or two and is home to myriad creepy crawlies, flying things and I imagine there’s a bird’s nest tucked in there somewhere.

On the other side of the lane stands a thoroughly renovated hedge. The piled earth hedge is lined with lawn turf, cut fine like a lawn with not a sign of anything wild. Above it runs an irrigation pipe to ensure it remains a vivid and constant green.

On top of the hedge is a fine stand of griselinia, the fast-growing, ubiquitous hedging plant beloved by developers and sold at every garden centre. I suspect it is devoid of living creatures given it provides little in the way of food for anything at all.

A startling chalk and cheese comparison of modern Guernsey. On one side the beloved heritage hedge and on the other the stark, soulless, modern designer hedge. Both perform the same function, one ‘professionally’ and the other the ‘Guernsey way’. One is clearly controlled and designed by man, the other the result of a long partnership between man and nature.

If there was a hedge regulator, it would love the well-trimmed griselinia and immaculate grass hedge. That hedge would be shown off to all visiting regulators and lauded as proof of how Guernsey has hedges fit for the 21st Century. That hedge would become the standard all hedges are tested against and guidance would be issued to all hedge owners that this is what their hedges should look like.

As more and more hedges are purged of the hundreds of ‘weeds’, the island would become much more uniform and clearly under the control of man and not left to the accidents of nature with the excuse ‘it has always been this way’.

In my mind those two hedges are a stark illustration of the paths we as an island could follow. One is to retain as much beauty as we can with an understanding that we share this island with a plethora of flora and fauna, even if it means our way of life has to adapt and our expectations of riches have to be scaled back.

The other is that the island is here to serve us and must be tamed, allowing us to squeeze the last piece of treasure out of it by building over green fields to maximise our economic output. Functionality and financial return trumps all else. We cannot accept that there are things we can’t afford while there are still parts of our island we haven’t yet fully exploited for financial gain.

Our current States imagines the way to improve quality of life here is to increase the size of the population. It is already more than 50% higher than when I was born. Those younger than me will be surprised to hear that there were several farms in St Peter Port and that the countryside started near Beetons chippie.

Field after field after field disappeared. But seemingly it made us richer and gave us a better life. A better life where once a single wage could support a family, but now even two combined isn’t enough. A better life where house purchase was possible for most but now is nigh impossible. A better life where large family support networks have now in part been replaced with singletons living alone far from their original homes.

GDP growth is not the only measure of a successful community, especially when it isn’t fairly distributed per capita. We could arrange our affairs to keep our population relatively stable. We could make our island more child-friendly and be a place where people have children while the rest of the world cuts down on births.

We could stop taking the view that old people are a drag on the community. Old people with income and capital could provide very needed investment into the economy. Possibly the concept that the old have to be supported by the young is now out of date.

We could also stop taking the view that caring for our health is the responsibility of the States of Guernsey. The greatest threat to this island is medical care inflation and the cock-eyed idea that we as patients should by right have all treatment free at the point of use.

If we want to draw a line under the concreting over of Guernsey, we must change our views on what the taxpayer should pay for. We have somehow in a few decades drifted from personal responsibility into welfare state. This is why the States is growing and will continue to grow like topsy.

When we build our shiny new hospital it will need more nurses and cost more to run. To pay for it we either increase the population to find the extra taxes or we tax everyone here now more. GST will come back. And it will come back to people who can’t afford their mortgage, or can’t afford their rent and are struggling to pay for just about everything else.

The answer is to lower our expectations. By lowering our expectations we can reduce the cost to the States. By reducing the cost to the States we keep more of our money in our pockets by avoiding higher taxation.

Just because the hedge on the left has been properly planned, planted out by professional gardeners and will cost more to maintain, it will continue to perform the same role as the pretty but random hedge on the right.

If this island wants to retain its soul and not become an apocalyptic and sterile wasteland, we must go back to the tried and tested Guernsey way of personal responsibility before it is too late.

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