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States must not let Leale’s Yard opportunity slip away

Nick Mann | Published:

LEALE’S YARD, once buzzing with small-scale industry, is now home to little more than empty sheds and weeds.

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It is symbolic of the economic conditions which have prevailed since it was bought by the Co-op more than a decade ago and is now a hidden stain on the Bridge.

The stagnation over development plans tells its own story about how well Guernsey is doing, for all the upbeat messages that may be being delivered from political platforms.

Our States is terrified of getting too involved.

When last year there were signs that something good would actually come of the bond money through an investment to kickstart Leale’s Yard for the community’s benefit, deputies got very cold feet very quickly.

This States is happy to bung six figures in subsidy to a struggling UK airline to fly half-full planes to Heathrow, but when it comes to something that might be of worth to people who aren’t able to afford to jet around the world, they get scared.

The now-lapsed plans for Leale’s Yard included a significant amount of housing that would have helped the first-time buyer market.

It also included some retail and hospitality opportunities that would have added to the offering of the Bridge, a chance to revitalise a tired area.

Policy & Resources had pledged to bring a report to the States this term which would have included whether a public subsidy should be used.

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It has now pushed that firmly to the bottom of the to-do list and with the Development & Planning Authority deciding to work on yet more planning guidance for the site and its surroundings, any action is now years away.

That is a crying shame, an example of a government trying to look busy doing something when in fact what it is really doing is playing for time.

Everything has stalled.

The Co-op can take its share of the blame for failing to get a development off the ground, but it is also a victim of the economy in which it is trying to work.

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Its mistake has been not to find some sustained interim use, but the site is a difficult one to open up in the condition that it is now and with the promise that a solution is just around the corner.

There is a great corridor of opportunity offered by Leale’s Yard and as you move inland to the Saltpans former data park site. An opportunity to relieve some of the pressure on the busy northern roads, to take pedestrians and cyclists along safe routes, to create community facilities as well as housing and sites for business.

The danger as ever with Guernsey is that things will happen in a piecemeal way, driven in part by understandable self-interest but also an inability to come up with a vision.

Just imagine if government decided that the data park site could be used for something other than industry and worked with its owners and the Co-op on Leale’s Yard with this blank canvas – there is nowhere else in the island that could ever happen to this kind of scale.

Whisper it quietly, but it could be a radical alternative site for one of the new schools Education is so keen to squeeze into the island. Or maybe you can pedestrianise the shopping and harbour area of the Bridge and move travel links behind. Maybe you create plazas and parks by the sea where currently we have car parks, run down shops and narrow lanes. Consumer habits have changed, with shopping moving online these areas need to be much more than simple retail, they need to be destinations with restaurants and leisure activities with housing nearby.

Maybe there should be a cinema, maybe we build a 50m swimming pool and associated sporting facilities, hell, even that idea of a Dairy World promoting the Guernsey Cow and all the unique milk and cheese we have could be thrown in. Get the bulldozers in and start completely again.

Planners and their paid-for consultants are currently getting people to fill in Post-it notes with ideas. But the reality is that this is an exercise in being seen to do something, just as all the development frameworks before have been.

They provide outline guidance at best, what is needed is a far more radical package of measures and work.

As confident as we can be in our economy, we are not going to suddenly return to pre-crash levels of vibrancy and growth.

If we want Leale’s Yard to happen the government has to do more than provide some crayons, and if it does provide investment it has the perfect opportunity to help drive the development much more for the community’s benefit.

This opportunity will never come around again – and it is also a chance to provide the flooding protection from sea level rise that will inevitably be needed.

The States is crawling forward and will reach the end of this term having failed the Bridge – the only action has been people looking at reducing the number of lamp posts – and even that was driven by the douzaine.

Nick Mann

By Nick Mann

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