La Cache Le Chemin des Maltiêres Grouville Jersey JE3 9EB
J MacKinnon CBE 2April, 2023
Dear Mr MacKinnon,
I have been asked to comment as a stakeholder on your review of how planning applications are handled in Jersey. The background to my involvement is that I have participated in responses to a number of planning applications, both in an individual capacity and in representing two interest groups, Cycle4Jersey and Grouville Community Environment & Change.
As a result of that experience in a Meet the Ministers roundtable session held in St Helier in January I commented on the planning system to Jonathan Renouf, Minister for the Environment. He expressed interest in my comments, including certain of those detailed below & told me I should make them in the forthcoming review. It later transpired that those asked to participate as Stakeholders were largely insiders, architects and planning consultants etc, &, after querying this with the Minister, I was asked to participate on behalf of the two interest groups. My overall view is that almost inevitably the planning system functions in an inequitable way with the balance in favour of insiders, the architects, consultants and their clients and against the man in the street who will at least initially find the system impenetrable. I know the planning department are aware of this, but it is surely in part exacerbated by invitations to participate in the review being restricted to Stakeholders ie largely insiders. It makes it all the more important that interest Groups are able to speak out for the Community. My concerns are therefore expressed on behalf of the two interest groups.
1 The website for planning applications is difficult to use. Interestingly I asked our Constable to comment on one application & he said he found it impossible to access.
2 Inevitably consultants etc massage the message in the application, so what is being proposed is obscure, for instance drawings may include planting , but this is no more than greenwashing, not committing that planting will actually be undertaken. Applications should instead be submitted in clear objective terms and, if they are not, the planning officers should reject them, saying please resubmit them in proper form. An example I know of concerned a property where the drawings were poor & imprecise. I & others responded making this comment along with others & the application was duly rejected. However time was spent in responding & as a “minor application “, absent our comments, might have gone through. Being able to make imprecise applications with poor drawings, means they can be pushed through early in the process saving architects’ fees etc & retaining flexibility for the applicant.
3 Equally planning officers should reject follow on applications, which simply re-package rejected applications, which are submitted hoping those commenting will be worn down. An example of re-application and wearing people down is the Fair Acre site in St Brelade, where Dandara persist in reapplying with minor changes dressed up as more . Applications that have amendments etc (eg the Waterfront development) and hundreds of pages of documents are practically impossible to follow for the layperson. This is just the sort of case where the inequality of resources between the developers and commenters means the Planning Department need to take this into account and that special provision should be made to encourage comments and appeals by interested groups acting for the Community.
4 A particular case I know of was where the consultants for an applicant complained about where a neighbour supposedly was using pressure on other neighbours to object to an application. If not abuse of process, it was clearly unacceptable behaviour from the applicant and their representatives against the rights of the neighbour to participate in the process and encourage others to do the same. It was followed by a reapplication in very similar terms, which was also rejected. The planning officers concerned should have ensured the second application wasn’t made.
5 Once a planning decision is made only those living close by or with an interest in the land concerned can appeal. On behalf of Grouville Community Environment & Change Sarah Howard & I both spoke before the Committee on an application for solar panels being placed by the JEC on fields in St Clement, which are of considerable landscape value & all the more valuable as St Clement may be considered a suburban parish, but nonetheless with the fields concerned above a medieval church looking down on a foreshore of both ecological & archaeological importance. The decision itself went 3 to 2 in favour of the development, but in our view was challengeable on technical grounds. I feel strongly that in such cases interest groups speaking for the Community should be able to lodge an appeal. This is consistent with The Bridging Island Plan encouraging Community Engagement.
6 There are real concerns with the way those representing States constituencies are excluded from participating. Both the Constable of St Clement and Deputy Alex Curtis representing the Parish sit on the Planning Committee. The Constable wasn’t present on the Committee considering the application described in 5 above, whilst Deputy Curtis spoke against it & then retired. So who could represent St Clement & its Parishioners in a case such as 5 where the parish landscape potentially would be seriously affected? The system works inconsistently. Jersey people think in parish terms. Deputy Mary Le Hegarty of St Helier North was able to vote for the important recent application concerning South Hill in St Helier, as it wasn’t in her constituency, but was in the parish she represents. So the treatment is inconsistent. In my view for it to work fairly all members of the Committee should be able to vote, but Constables and Deputies should declare their interest when an application involves the Parish they represent. (In Jersey of course effectively this almost would go without saying.) How else can they fulfil their responsibilities to Parish & Community?
Thank you for the ability to comment. I remain concerned that the enquiry should have been more open for the electorate generally to be able to respond and therefore that it contributes to effective inequality. In these circumstances, it makes it all the more important that those speaking for interest groups speak up. This comment is made on behalf of two of them, Cycle4Jersey and Grouville Community Environment & Change. If other interest groups haven’t been asked to comment as Stakeholders I can suggest Groups who might comment.