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Are we about to miss a sea-change opportunity?

Richard Digard | Published:

ANYONE keeping an eye on the rather tortuous process of the island trying to find a home for its builders’ rubble will be struck by how bad we seem to be at strategic planning.

(Picture by Peter Frankland, 24301158)

The favoured so-called Longue Hougue South site is merely least-worst in the context of not wanting to spend the extra cash (because of sea conditions) to reclaim land off Mont Cuet – something few would object to – or not having left sufficient time to dump it in Longue Hougue Quarry.

Had planning started early enough, it would have been theoretically possible to reclaim useful industrial land in the Bulwer Avenue area and transfer the water storage lost there to Les Vardes and relocate Ronez to Chouet headland.

The Deputy Neil Inder requete seeking to put inert waste to good use off St Peter Port Harbour picks up on some of this and is a better bet – some politicians are already predicting it will be accepted by the States – but still feels slightly disjointed.

By that, I mean if we’re looking at big picture items, why aren’t we detailing the problems we have and seeking a solution that resolves some or most of them?

Coincidentally, someone has. And presented to the States a scheme that could provide approaching 100 gigawatt hours of ‘green’ electricity through a mix of solar and tidal power plus Tesla batteries, east coast flood defences, a new commercial (including hydrocarbons) port plus passenger terminal in the north and a double cruise liner berth in St Peter Port.

Before you read that again, I should also mention that the scheme backers have funding lined up for it, interest from a sovereign wealth fund, and estimate a start to finish timescale of under four years.

It’s a thumping great package, costed at around £350m., and fully flexible in the sense it could be paid for by private enterprise, by government alone, or as a public-private initiative. Or even by offering you and I shares in it.

Too good to be true? From what I hear, far from it. One of the key drivers, generating a minimum of 70GW of power from a barrage across Belle Greve Bay, would be of huge interest to Guernsey Electricity, faced as it is with the multimillion cost of a new undersea cable to France and current onshore generation costs requiring a near 7% increase in the price of electricity.

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Those familiar with the scheme say another benefit of this is that Belle Greve remains tidal – rather like a mini La Rance in France, which has been generating power for the last 50 years – while the barrage itself removes the need for onshore and very visible flood defences.

Think about it and a two metre/6ft wall along Les Banques is going to destroy existing views, while a barrage from the harbour to Bulwer Avenue is far enough offshore almost to disappear – while also taking traffic away from the existing seafront.

Moving the existing commercial port out of St Peter Port reduces congestion, enables the marinas to be extended and facilities to be provided for the growing superyacht sector, while a cruise liner berth opens up still further possibilities.

One of the most significant is that by coming alongside, ships could turn off their generators, reducing pollution, while using Guernsey-generated tidal power. Yes, electricity would become an export commodity.

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There would be other commercial opportunities too, as local businesses, including the fuel companies, could supply the ships, increasing the value of cruise passengers to the island, not least because it would be easier for more of them to come onshore.

Other benefits have been flagged too. These include new jobs, new amenities – including safe, recreational use of the Belle Greve Bay tidal lagoon – a 100-bed, five-star hotel to boost tourism, and new land for homes or industry or both.

In short, it would enable the States to plan for the future expansion of the island in a structured way. That could include public sector land for affordable homes and mixed development to create new employment opportunities. It would safeguard the island’s growth and remove the need for any further greenfield development for the foreseeable future, particularly topical given the planning row at Le Maresquet, Vale.

Before you dismiss this as more pie-in-the-sky eastern seaboard dreaming, I’m told the promoters are serious players with impeccable credentials and track records.

They make their money identifying the problems communities have and then proposing and building solutions. Which is how they developed a 500,000 unit capacity container terminal in Gdansk on a virgin site in just 22 months.

What’s perhaps more surprising is that we haven’t heard about the project, since it’s been circulating around the States for more than 18 months, and has been presented to deputies and Policy & Resources.

Which takes us back to how well (or badly) the island handles infrastructure projects.

In fairness to government, it has procedures to follow in regard to bidding and awarding contracts fairly and doesn’t have a phalanx of policy officers in cold storage waiting to be thawed out in the event of a major project coming along. It is also hag-ridden by Brexit.

Which means evaluating schemes like this is a significant undertaking, especially at ‘States speed’, which certainly doesn’t approach any warp factor known to man.

So those who see the benefits of a big picture approach to some of the island’s problems are increasingly frustrated that the very people who could make it happen – and whose trademark is speed of execution – will lose interest and walk away.

See this in the wider context of the airport runway, what to do about Condor, resolving Aurigny’s high-cost business model, the overdue need to invest in infrastructure and the current scrabbling around over what to do with a bit of builders’ rubble and it tells you a lot about government capability and capacity.

Meanwhile, the prospect of generating around 20% of the island’s energy requirements through tidal power is left hanging.

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