Solving the States’ property puzzle

States property rationalisation has been much talked about, but seen little so far in the way of sales. But there is considerable progress being made, says Deputy Dave Mahoney, property lead on the Policy & Resources Committee.

MUCH has been made in the previous months over the housing situation in the island, and quite rightly so. While this is good news for our estate agents – the same cannot be said for a significant number of the population.

As the property lead on the Policy & Resources Committee, I have been working closely across committees to understand what can be done, and when it can be done.

Broadly there are three parts to this subject area, which can be split into:

n the rationalisation of the properties owned today by the States;

n putting the land we own to the best use; and finally,

n the work of the Housing Action Group. That group is chaired by Deputy Peter Roffey and since he has committed to provide an update in February of what it has been focused on, I will leave that to him.

But to start, let me lay to rest a couple of myths. Firstly, that the States is holding a massive portfolio of properties that are unused and can simply be sold (we don’t), and secondly, that we have dozens of acres of suitable land lying around doing nothing useful (we don’t). People will have seen a £2 billion value being thrown around. Just sell a bunch of assets, build some houses, and stop talking about tax rises, right? If only.

In case anyone forgets, a significant portion of our assets are infrastructure for the island. Airport, harbour, hospital, schools, parks, reservoirs, and social housing stock to name just the most obvious. Most people will see and appreciate that very easily, but a vocal minority choose to be deliberately blind to this.

As with many things – it is not always as simple as it might appear, or indeed as we would hope.

Most of us of a certain age will remember those kiddies’ sliding puzzles with a jumbled-up picture or number grid, and just one spare slot – things have to be done in the right order to get to the intended outcome. That is a good metaphor for the programme of rationalisation of the States property portfolio.

The officers within States Property Services have identified a number of properties that will be excess to requirement through the updated working practices that are being introduced. As each piece of the puzzle is moved into place, the building will be sold and the funds ring-fenced for use on other capital projects – some of which I will touch on later.

No sale proceeds will be used to fund general revenue costs, so for those dusting off ‘selling off the family silver’ for their social media feeds – you can stand down, and rest easy.

Let us dive into some of the detail – the old (and disused) Education building in the Grange is under offer to the Queen’s Road Medical Practice to better serve the population by being able to expand their offering to the community, with the finer details now being ironed out, and thanks go out to the Development & Planning Authority and Planning Department for their assistance in working with P&R in approving the necessary change of use. The offices at Raymond Falla House in St Martin’s will now be refurbished to provide a long-overdue adults and children’s hub, bringing together services from Lukis House, Swissville and Garden Hill. Once those three buildings have been vacated, they will be sold.

While talking about community hubs, working closely with Deputy Al Brouard and officers from Health & Social Care, plans are being progressed for a wider hub to draw together many services currently split across half-a-dozen other sites. This will provide a huge benefit to those that make use of those services.

Continuing on our journey through the portfolio – six other now redundant properties are either on the market or being tidied to be placed on the market in the next month or so. We would wish to utilise the proceeds in the region of £3m. from these sales to offset some of the cost of a new accommodation block for nursing staff by the Princess Elizabeth Hospital. That project alone could free up a minimum of 69 local market apartments currently occupied by nursing staff. With a following wind we may be able to extend that to 150 new units.

We have already held discussions with the DPA and will continue to press this project through. This would have a huge impact on the rental market locally, and a positive impact on our ability to recruit and retain nursing staff.

Now let us talk about what many perceive as our long-neglected ‘crown jewels’ sites of the King Edward VII Hospital and Castel Hospital. It is well recognised that the island needs more residential care beds and to this end, discussions are ongoing with different parties for a couple of options, one of which is to use part of the site of KE VII for a new care home, adding another 50-60 beds to those already available, and the other is for a care village spread across the entire KE VII site. Those discussions are clearly commercially sensitive at this time but are being progressed.

On the site of the Castel Hospital, HSC is currently utilising a renovated wing as the base for 270 staff covering various medical and community responsibilities so we cannot simply develop the site right now. (See the puzzle analogy of earlier).

However, we do own a large area of land surrounding the site, and initial design plans have already been drawn up to develop additional housing.

I referenced earlier that a significant number of apartments would become available on completion of the new nursing accommodation, but we are very aware that the island also desperately needs three-, four-, five-bedroom houses for families to buy and occupy, and that is what P&R is proposing for the Castel site. Provisional design plans have highlighted that the site has capacity for around 90 such houses, with appropriate outside space and parking.

I should add that we have no intention of selling this land to any developer and watching profits accrue in the private sector. In a number of meetings with the Developers’ Forum and the Construction Forum, I have made it clear that the States will be looking to work with the private sector through joint ventures, so that both sides can benefit from this and future projects. Our engagement with these bodies has been useful and appreciated by all and will continue.

All of these matters of course require planning approval and Deputy Victoria Oliver and her DPA team are working closely with P&R at each stage.

Finally, I will mention that our friends in Alderney also have similar housing issues and therefore I am in touch with their Housing Task Group to see what solutions could assist them to pull through these difficult times.

I’ll finish by saying that I hope this has helped shed some light on the behind-the-scenes work that’s happening across the States and helps reassure islanders that we are aware, and are getting things done.

We don’t want to debate it endlessly because we need to make progress.

This is a big challenge and needs some coordinated working across relevant committees to achieve successfully, so that is what we are doing right now to deliver some tangible results.

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