Planning policies for the good of the people

Trevor Cooper offers his thoughts on the data park development and the new Affordable Guernsey group

IT’S all in the timing and a lot of thought went into the timing of two media releases circa the Government Work Plan debated during the last States Assembly meeting.

I suspect Deputy Peter Ferbrache’s move to delay the start of last month’s meeting was primarily to coincide with the Guernsey Housing Association’s purchase of the disused data park land at Route Militaire, which completed in conveyancing court the very same day. The other timely media scoop was the newly formed Affordable Guernsey group releasing its initial ideas in a paper entitled ‘Housing: Helping People Help Themselves’.

I expect both imagined triumphal choruses of approval, instead of which they were met with mixed and muted reactions.

The £4.75m. cost of the Route Militaire site, or rather the uplift in value afforded the sellers, and the proposed number of houses to be built were met with surprise and in some quarters consternation.

Deputy Ferbrache assured us that his personal intervention saved the States £250,000, but hasn’t explained why, under the previous assembly, the site wasn’t in contention in 2019 when the GHA was calling for development sites and the sellers purchased it for £1.6m. as a Key Industrial Area, which is still how it’s zoned on the Island Development Plan. Neither can Deputy Peter Roffey explain why but has personally distanced himself from any part of a missed opportunity that has cost taxpayers dearly.

In any event, Deputy Roffey’s Committee for Employment & Social Security says policy S5 of the IDP is his preferred option of three available paths for gaining change of use to housing.

There’s obviously been some horse trading, otherwise the site’s previous owners, a corporate investment specialist, would have followed the same course and sold the site with residential zoning for a greater price. If planning is granted for all 190 units, as expected, the amount paid actually equates to £25,000 per unit, half the price pro-rata of the former Kenilworth Vinery site, now to be called Parc Le Lacheur,

But should all of the latest acquisition be used for housing?

Deputy Roffey has other ideas and so do I and so do Affordable Guernsey.

Trevor Cooper.

The anonymity of the new group is to safeguard it from any perceived political agenda, having strongly criticised the island’s current housing approach as being fraught with rigid, centrally-determined plans. The group’s well-presented and clearly explained document, however, refers to developing an illustrative field, which immediately risks alienating some politicians and members of the public.

That aside, its local community sales scheme aims to provide housing for the lower and indeed middle part of the market, which has its own problems with scarcity and affordability, also claiming to annually boost States revenue by up to £25m. through a new development wealth fund.

In broad terms, the plan is to ‘democratise the planning process’ by encouraging self-build projects and allowing a prospective site’s neighbours to ally with and profit from a site’s development.

Opportunities abound for owners to increase by a reasonable amount the value of land that otherwise flies in the face of the current IDP and for self-build projects to keep costs down for their members and for neighbouring owners to prosper when they might otherwise oppose such a development, the States also taking a percentage of the uplift in value.

I can imagine, but not fully explain, all sorts of local foibles and traits to hinder such a scheme in Guernsey, other than perhaps by enacting a previous suggestion of mine.

Applications to replace many acres of derelict vineries with new housing have been vigorously rejected for more than 40 years. Surely the time has come to reconsider the rule in a pragmatic and mindful way. On no account should the entire site of a derelict vinery be used for housing, preferably only one-third of the space available, with time-penalty covenants attached to also clear and return to grass the remainder of the site for the improvement of the neighbourhood’s green agenda.

This is a common-sense application of the Affordable Guernsey scheme that is community minded, has ecological benefits and avoids anyone walking away with jackpot profits.

No doubt Affordable Guernsey will say that a corner of the Route Militaire site should be allocated to a self-build project, with the States setting reasonable plot prices that benefit all parties. Sadly, I suspect the purchase of every square inch of the site by the GHA is a hands-off warning for any other innovative mix-use vision for such a perfect blank canvas.

This is narrow-minded in many respects and a mistake in others. I can understand the benefit of a wide vehicular thoroughfare linking it with the Kenilworth Vinery onto Route Militaire, thereby avoiding the narrow lanes in the Saltpans, but loading both sites with 325 housing units is building houses for the sake of numbers.

The majority will be social rental accommodation and additional to a similar number planned nearby at Le Murier.

When the States began a social house building programme, first in 1918 and predominantly after the Second World War, there was a good reason why they created credible-size developments in different parts of the whole island. Former States deputy Andrew Le Lievre has researched the subject and refers to the building of the Le Grand Bouet estate in 1968 as another example of ‘action this day’. At the same time 138 properties were built at Les Genats estate in Castel. In Le Lievre’s own poignant words, possibly thousands of lives were blighted by being required to live on a soulless estate with no gardens, no privacy, no great expectations and no feeling of being part of island life.

There are alternatives to packing so much social housing so closely together. I’ve written about them before and, with more hope than assurance, will continue to do so in future.

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