States has engineered its own infrastructure failure

The island’s post-Covid need for shovel-ready projects demonstrated a history of chronic under-investment in infrastructure. Richard Digard highlights the consequences – and how this Assembly’s response should be judged

Regenerating the Bridge through the Leale's Yard development would be a test of whether this Assembly is serious about Getting Things Done. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28955873)
Regenerating the Bridge through the Leale's Yard development would be a test of whether this Assembly is serious about Getting Things Done. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28955873)

OVER the past couple of weeks we’ve had update statements from a number of political department heads speaking about the need for infrastructure projects locally, touching on east coast and harbours development, developing the runway and regenerating crumbling areas of St Peter Port.

Conspicuous by its absence was anything concrete (sorry) from Environment & Infrastructure, the only committee specifically mandated in this area. Perhaps that’s why it’s known in States circles as E&E – all that matters to it is the environment, single-handedly saving the planet and rehabilitating islanders from their addiction to motor vehicles.

That said, the other departments are no less culpable for the current lamentable under-investment in the facilities, systems, sites, information, people, networks and processes on which this island’s daily life depends.

Worse, that neglect is deliberate. To explain, the intention of what was then called the States Strategic Plan was to have a series of related plans dealing with mission critical areas, among them energy, population management, environment, fiscal and economic policy and – you’ve guessed it – infrastructure.

Needless to say, it’s never been prepared and that single omission alone demonstrates how unfocused (I was tempted to say useless) the last two Assemblies have been, although at least we now have a greater understanding of the mobility issues posed by cobbles in St Peter Port and a ban on bonfires producing black smoke.

Read the latest presidential committee updates, plus a rather devastating critique researched by St Sampson’s douzenier Rob Gill, and you’ll appreciate the problems this legacy of neglect has created.

Put simply, just when the island needs to get proverbial spades in the ground, it’s mired in planning, proposing and theorising – E&E for example is going all gooey over blue and green economies. As it puts it: ‘Fundamental to any work on [this] is a Marine Spatial Plan – a vital project facilitated through our Strategy for Nature.’

So that’s another two ‘plans’ to prepare, which means the tower cranes remain mothballed and the shovels stay in the shed.

Douzenier Gill’s study shows how fundamental and damaging this inactivity has been: ‘Within that one square kilometre [of Bulwer Avenue] is the island’s largest builders’ merchant and timber mill, most plant hire companies, the heavy scrap yard, a structural steel fabricator, joinery shop, window manufacturer, vehicle body shop, the island’s refuse and food waste processing, general recycling, inert waste dump, the abattoir, the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Office, and the island’s fuel offloading and storage facilities.

‘This is the result of years of a lack of planning, foresight and poor governance. A direct result of government not producing the Island Infrastructure Plan that was proposed per the States Strategic Plan of 2009,’ he says.

As a consequence, Ferryspeed has, by default, become the island’s main freight handler and manages 8,400 movements of 40ft trailers from St Peter Port to Bulwer Avenue every year. That’s 160 a week, or 360,000 pallets and cargo cages annually, and it can operate only by commandeering Longue Hougue Lane, previously a public thoroughfare.

Its operation is critical to the wellbeing of the island but maintaining it has been make-do-and-mend. Vehicle and Licensing remains in the way but there is no joined-up solution while the Infrastructure Committee wants to (actual quote) help businesses and islanders ‘better recognise nature’s value’.

So I think you can agree with me that the new States regime headed by Peter Ferbrache as president of Policy & Resources will be judged on how well and effectively it can cut through some of this nonsense and Get Things Done.

Parking blame with the old Assembly, what can the new one do to get Guernsey back on track? For me, the test will be regenerating the Bridge area through – finally – developing Leale’s Yard. Previous Development & Planning Authority president Dawn Tindall agreed when we met before the election that to do so would make absolute sense.

So too does the Chamber of Commerce. ‘[We are] keen to encourage the development of under-utilised areas which can provide space particularly for SMEs and trades/workshops because we know they are in short supply, also housing for young families and downsizers, together with economic opportunities in a location that has the potential to effectively combine business on-site and village-style life,’ executive director Kay Leslie told me.

Its broad position was one of frustration at the lack of investment in infrastructure in recent years, particularly given that the issue was not lack of funds for States-backed initiatives.

‘We have held one-to-one meetings with Stuart Falla [non-States member on the States’ Trading Supervisory Board] on the Future Harbour project and know that St Sampson’s is at the heart of his plans,’ she said.

That report is due within a couple of months.

Chamber colleague chartered architect James Barker, who leads on planning and construction issues, agrees. Not only would the new development help to improve the area, it would also provide investment opportunities, create further jobs and employment for local companies, and provide further housing.

The road infrastructure in and around the Bridge, like so many areas across the island, was in desperate need of upgrading.

‘I would hope that the Leale’s Yard would be the catalyst to address these problems and provide a well-considered, more user-friendly vehicle, cycle and pedestrian route for everyone,’ he said.

Yet now-former deputy Tindall also said that it was more likely greenfield site Saltpans or States-owned Fontaine Vinery would be developed first, and then only for housing.

No one, you see, prioritises or directs what, on the basis of community benefit, should go first. Or says job done when something’s achieved. That’s why the current DPA has moved on and is now pursuing a single Development Framework for the three regeneration areas at Mansell Street/Le Bordage, South Esplanade, and the Lower Pollet.

Nothing built, no new infrastructure, zero regeneration. But at least reports have been published…

I don’t criticise, because this is the system we have. Failing to change it so Guernsey gets the infrastructure investment it so desperately needs, however, will be an acid test for this States. All I’ll say at this stage is it’s an uphill task, especially while ‘E&E’ is able to swerve its share of the heavy lifting.

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