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Harbour plan has merit

Peter Gillson | Published:

I WAS quite pleased to read the requete to investigate reclaiming land outside the harbour rather than in the area of Longue Hougue South.

St Peter Port Harbour. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 24302561)

Based on the information available, if I were a deputy I would be tempted to support it, but with two conditions: firstly, that sufficient research is undertaken to ensure the reclamation does not result in significantly damaging tides; and secondly, that the project includes a new deep water berth for vessels larger than the harbour can currently accommodate.

Why would I support such a project?

To start by stating the obvious: the States is not awash with money so they need to get the best value possible from any project, which includes the disposal of inert builders’ waste.

With this in mind, my starting point is that the land we create from this waste has to be of some use. This really means that the idea of using it to reclaim around Mont Cuet is a non-starter since I doubt many would want to see industrial buildings on that coast.

This leaves us with the original option of Longue Hougue South, which would create land adjacent to existing industry, therefore suitable for industrial use. A viable option I would normally support.

However, I would give more support to the requete because reclaiming land outside the harbour has greater merit.

It was, I believe, the former harbour master Peter Gill who once described St Peter Port as a 19th century harbour, with 20th century equipment, trying to provide a 21st century service. This nicely describes its limitations.

Although our harbour is a lot better than St Helier’s, it does have a size limitation – it is too small for the ferries operated by companies other than Condor to berth.

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In addition, the amount of land is barely sufficient – even after a large chunk of the North Beach car park was appropriated into the harbour’s operational area.

In short, it was not designed for the way it is currently being used – so something needs to be done.

It seems only too sensible to combine the project of improving our harbour with the issue of disposing of our inert waste.

I appreciate that there is a steering group currently looking at the harbour area, but I do have some concerns about that group. I belonged to a similar group, which was created as a result of the then Environment Committee’s changes to the road layout in Town – remember that fiasco? Considering the number of people around that table, the group achieved very little – other than getting the original road layout reinstated.

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My understanding is that the current seafront working party has the objective of producing a plan to enhance and improve the seafront. Within that objective is the need to ensure whatever is done does not create problems for the future development.

It has a reasonable aim, but my concern is that trying to produce a master vision which would encompass the whole area and everybody’s needs is a near impossible task. No proposal will satisfy everybody.

That would be fine if it was a debating society, where the objective is to talk, but the group should not be a ‘talking shop’ – it should be a body which makes recommendations to enable something to happen.

At some stage a decision has to be made, a proverbial stake has to be put in the ground – reclaiming land outside the harbour is such a stake in the ground.

Doing this will help harbour operations and create a solid starting point for the more general improvement of the seafront.

One aspect I mentioned was the possibility of a new deepwater berth. I like this idea because it could make it possible for other ferry companies to service the island.

That would be a significant change – and not one without risk.

Past experience of having more than one ferry has indicated that the market for a non-freight service is marginal and cannot readily support more than one operator. Therefore another entrant could have a negative impact on Condor’s non-freight service.

It is important that government is aware of this, but since it does not owe any private company an existence, it should not be a determining factor in any decision.

Companies such as Brittany Ferries already have routes from the UK to Cherbourg, St Malo, Roscof and Spain. I have not contacted them, but perhaps some or all of those could also service us? A UK/Cherbourg ferry route modified to include us, for instance.

Perhaps being part of a larger network, a ferry which carries passengers going to Cherbourg as well Guernsey, might change the economics of providing a ferry service to us. Perhaps this change in costs could enable more than one operator to provide services to us?

Expanding the number of operators would reduce our dependency on the one company, which would be positive. There might also be an increase in the number of continental ports – potentially Spain or even Cork. However, there would be a downside – travel times would increase. We have the luxury of many of our routes being direct to or from the UK. Including us into an existing network would change that. Using the example of Cherbourg, our travel time to or from the UK would increase by the time taken to stop at Cherbourg. Given the potential increase in connectivity, I think that would be a reasonable change.

There is no doubt that the harbour needs to be improved and this requete could be the catalyst to get the ball rolling. I hope it gets the backing of the States.

Helen Hubert

By Helen Hubert
author

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