Monday, 23 June 2014
Plemont Headland---A Contrived Debate?
Next week the States will be meeting as per schedule and Members have over 30 propositions plus amendments to debate. Some years ago the States approved my proposition which was to publish a schedule of States Sittings in the summer for the following year and should States business not be completed on the scheduled Tuesday then business would continue through that week. The 2014 schedule was published on 15th July via R87/2013
The reason for my proposition was to help States Members with their diaries. They would know that whilst they could be in the States for some days in the scheduled week, there was good chance that they would be free the following week so they could arrange meetings, particularly those out of Island, with a degree of certainty. Therefore States Members had almost a year's notice that there would be a States meeting on 1st July which could sit for several days as there is always a build up in July.
Due to the large number of propositions the States has agreed to meet at 230pm on Monday 30th June for Question Time which will mean that debates on the propositions can get under way after prayers on Tuesday 1st July. Normally propositions are debated in the numerical order in which they are lodged. However if a good reason can be found it is possible with States approval for a proposition to be moved up or down the Order Paper.
On 3rd June Senator Philip Bailhache lodged yet another proposition on the Plemont Holiday Village. P107/2014. In his election manifesto he was critical of States Members stating " The reputation of the States in the Island has seldom been lower. Too much time is wasted by the discussion of trivial matters." He may be right but what is a trivial matter and how many times must a matter be recycled? There have been several States debates on Plemont and on 13th December 2012 the States debated P90/2012 lodged by Chief Minister Gorst which asked whether the States should buy the headland and sell it on to the National Trust for Jersey. The States by 25 to 24 decided against the purchase. Planning Consent has since been given and work is underway, however the friends/members of the National Trust have continued their opposition.
The latest twist in the saga is that the Developer, probably because he can not longer afford the time or money fighting the Trust's big guns is offering to sell the property to them. However not only is the price well over the top, see Treasury Ministers Comments in 2012 but is considerably more than the Trust can afford. However with friends in high places money is not a problem. The Developer is asking for just over £7 million pounds and to walk away leaving the States and the National Trust with responsibility for clearing the large site and returning it to nature.
What is alarming is that Senator Bailhache only lodged his proposition on 3rd June and it is being debated one month later with no Comments from the Treasury or Planning Ministers or the Council of Ministers, nor being subject of a review or Comments from the Scrutiny Panel. If the proposition had been lodged by an "ordinary" back bencher all sorts of obstacles would have been found let alone requests for deferment until the financial implications had been addressed.
When a proposition is lodged the proposer is supposed to disclose the financial and manpower implications. If a particular proposal does have financial implications he/she must identify what savings can be made elsewhere to fund whatever is being proposed. Finding £3m can be difficult however Senator Bailhache is requesting that the Treasury Minister should identify the appropriate means of funding. Can you imagine what the Treasury Minister's response would be if a lesser mortal should make such a request?
To add insult to injury and to expose States Member's soft under belly they have not only agreed that Senator Bailhache's proposition should jump the queue but should be debated as the first item when the States sits on Tuesday morning. This will be really convenient for the Trust's supporters who are being encouraged to attend the debate. How is this possible and how could Members be so naive. The answer is simple and is explained below.
The Overseas Aid Committee has an annual trip to the UK to meet various bodies who have applied for Aid. It has had a year's notice that the States was sitting on 1st July and given the usual build up of propositions, the Sitting was likely to continue through the week. Senator Paul Routier who apart from being an Assistant Chief Minister is also Chairman of the Jersey Overseas Aid Committee and he should have been aware that the States was likely to sit for several days. It should be noted that he and fellow members Connetable le Troquer and Deputy Labey all voted in support of the proposition to purchase the Plemont property in 2012, but unless Senator Bailhache's proposition was able to jump the queue all three members would be in the UK and unable to vote.
Normally it is the proposition's proposer who asks for a variation in the running order. However it appears that Deputy Labey was deputed to make the request. One can understand the request because it is likely that the proposition would have been debated later in the week when the 3 committee members were in the UK. In my view the States Members should not have supported Deputy Labey's request. The Overseas Aid Committee had ample knowledge of the States Sitting and should have avoided that week. Among the 30 proposition are matters which relate to a number of important laws which affect the well being of ALL Island residents and deserving the support of ALL States Members. To agree to the Plemont proposition jumping the queue is an insult to All Island residents and no wonder that the reputation of the States in the Island has seldom been lower with leader of the culprits being none other than the statement's author.
It should be noted that there were requests for P102/2014 Civil Marriage-same sex couples lodged by Deputy Sam Mezec and Maternity Leave- Rights of employees lodged by Deputy Geoff Southern to jump the queue but neither were approved and among those voting against were Senator Bailhache and Deputy Labey.
Supporting the proposition is short sighted. The Holiday Village is a brown field site where the Developer intends to build 28 homes which we are told are much needed. The cost to the States will be in excess of three and a half million pounds for these reasons. Building the homes will provide work for a large number of people who will pay income tax and social security and the sale of the homes will lead to a considerable amount of stamp duty to the States and 28 rate payers to the Parish of St Ouen. The Developer has said that he will give the States a large area of the headland which can be enjoyed by future generations.
I submit that if the States has over £3m spare money it would be better spent on helping the Island's needy and vulnerable residents who probably have no idea where Plemont is and like the majority of Island residents are unlikely to visit the headland.