Friday 29 June 2012

Short term gain---Long term pain

Regular readers will know that I have published a few Blogs regarding the proposal to build a new school on the St Martin's School field.

The JEP has recently informed its readers that the Environment Minister has considered the comments from the consultation exercise and has now made a Ministerial decision which will provide planning guidance for building on the school field.

Such a decision defies logic and just goes to show how the consultation process was a waste of the time, with the questions loaded in such a way to enable the Ministers to receive the answers they were seeking. Most importantly the option of redevelopment was omitted.

As a result of the report I submitted another letter to the JEP which it published in yesterday's edition and is reproduced below.

As a lead into the letter below, I wish to make it clear that I do not have a problem with demolishing, if necessary, all of the existing School buildings. Whilst the shell of the 1900 building remains, internally there is very little of the infrastructure remaining from my school days. Almost all of the playground areas have been built on and as if as suggested that the School no longer fits the purpose than it should be replaced. By being replaced on the existing site it will remain in what is deemed to be the heart of the perceived Village. As mentioned previously it is the least expensive and will save the School field which will remain intact for future generations.

Whilst much has been made of the need to provide education for St Martin's pupils one very relevant fact to come from the consultation process is that at present as many as 48% of the current pupils reside outside the catchment area.

My letter is as follows,
Dear Sir,
I am sure that your readers will have welcomed the report in the Wednesday 20th June edition of the JEP which gives an update on the unwarranted and illogical proposal to build a new school on the existing school field at St Martin.
The report states that an unknown source has said that there is strong support for a new primary and nursery school to be built on the existing sports field. However as the questionnaire was drafted in such a way that building on the school filed was the best of the bad options and the redeveloping option was omitted, the result of the so called consultation is hardly surprising We were also informed that the Environment Minister had made a Ministerial decision to provide planning guidance to build on the sports field

So much for public consultation and the protection of the environment when it’s own Minister can permit building on a historic and Greenfield site when to redevelop the existing school is not only the most environmentally friendly but will save taxpayers  well over £1million.

There is also a quote from the Planning and Environment Chief Officer who states that “the 2011 Island Plan safeguards the site for educational use. The Principle of the site being used has already been agreed.” The Island Plan contains some 500 pages and if one searches carefully one will find that on page 275 which relates to educational facilities it records that “the redevelopment of public or private educational sites and facilities for alternative uses will not be permitted except in exceptional circumstances and only when it can be demonstrated that the premises are surplus to public and private educational requirements and the wider community need.”

Among the sites to be “protected or safeguarded” is Field 327A, St Martin, which is the existing sports field. It provides an area for sport and recreation for the school; it has been used for decades by the parish football team and the wider community including the School’s PTA who again will shortly be holding another car boot sale on it.

It is also reported that the Parish Connetable supports the proposal to build on the school field. That is not correct because although he forwarded a lengthy and helpful submission he did not express a view either way, but was of the view that decisions on the new school should not be delayed merely to await a Parish Village Plan. 

I took part in the Island Plan debate but the issue of the school field was never discussed but I believe that the intention of including the school field in the policy was to ensure that it was protected from ANY development. To now suggest that the intention was to build a school on it is totally dishonest. Where are the exceptional circumstances?
The States is often accused of failing to exercise joined up thinking but the way it has approached the decision to build on the field is a classic example of its failure.

This is Jubilee, Olympic and European football competition year. In addition Jersey is due to host the Island Games in 2015 but we cannot support our sports people to travel to Bermuda for the next Island Games.

To celebrate the Jubilee there is a project called the Diamond Jubilee Field Challenge under the patronage of her Majesty and headed by Prince William. The purpose of the Challenge is to safeguard sports fields from development. It also allows for the public to nominate and then vote for sports fields which should be protected. Jersey is participating with a committee consisting of the Council of Ministers and headed by the Bailiff. The Environment and Education Ministers know, because I have written to them, that I have nominated the St Martin’s Field, yet both are ignoring the democratic process.

The Education Minister who is also our Minister for Sport has adopted a Trappist Monk approach to the financial difficulties encountered by our sports people attending the Bermuda Island Games. The Parish Football Club still waits evidence of his promise of finding an alterative pitch. However if he re-developed the school not only will the field be saved for the cricketers and footballers but there will be a saving of over £1millon. That money could be used to finance the transport to Bermuda and for updating our infrastructure for when we host the 2015 Island Games. The field would also be retained for future generations.

It would seem that the public has a win, win opportunity so why can’t that opportunity be grasped by our Ministers?

As one can above the decision to build on the field is illogical and ill planned. When the new school is finally built the existing one will be handed over to the Parish which I am sure will be as much welcomed as receiving a hole in the head as it is already struggling in knowing what to do with its ailing Rectory.

It would seem that the supporters for building on the field are more interested in a policy of short term gain with long term pain and all logic is thrown out of the window. 

Wednesday 13 June 2012

The Singing Canary

So now we have it, after almost two weeks of promises the Vote of Censure relating to Senator Philip Ozouf has now been lodged in Senator Ferguson’s name. The proposition and supporting report are well drafted but the outcome will depend on the support each Senator is able to rally because those defending Senator Ozouf’s actions will find any number of red herrings to deflect from the fact that Senator Ozouf has lived a charmed life. The Senator by doling out money to his fellow Ministers on “Worthy” causes is doing his best to win friends and influence people. However I thought he was in trouble because of his actions whilst carrying out the difficult job of raising taxes and implementing cost savings.

Right from the outset of Scrutiny the Senator has cocked a snoop at anyone who has disagreed with him. Deputy Geoff Southern to his credit was more than a match for Senator Ozouf but even when the truth was the elephant in the room Senator Ozouf and his supporters were oblivious and untouchable. This is evident because Geoff lodged a similar proposition not that long ago which was heavily defeated.

There is now another attempt to enable the Senator to account for his actions, something which should not only have been done by the current Chief Minister but also by the two previous ones. Senator Gorst has failed miserably and to suggest that the problems were caused by pressure and stress was an insult to those who have suffered from Senator Ozouf’s aggressive style over substance approach. Unfortunately whilst his commitment and enthusiasm cannot be denied he is so wrapped up in his own importance to understand that his behaviour is akin to bullying and cannot be allowed to continue.

Perversely he is only being asked to account for his handling of the Lime Grove transaction. Whilst I don’t defend the manner in which it is alleged that he handled the transaction, I do believe that the decision not to occupy Lime Grove was the right one even if arrived at for the wrong reason. In fact I am not enamoured with the prospect of building any Police Station near tunnels and roundabouts and am disappointed that an alternative site is still being pursued at that location.

No doubt when the Censure proposition is debated Members will stray into other areas including the former Chief Executive’s claim that he left because of the difficulties he encountered in his working relationship with Senator Ozouf. That claim is stretching things a bit too far because I believe that the Chief Executive’s position was untenable following the Napier findings. The publication of the Napier Report was delayed because consideration was being given to disciplinary action being taken against one of the people identified in the Report, by the process of elimination that person could only have been the former Chief Executive.

His leaving was more than co-incidental. It would not have been in the Council of Ministers’ interest to have taken disciplinary action against him because no doubt he would have become a “Singing Canary” which would have exposed the failings of many Ministers. It will be interesting to see how much dirty washing will be displayed during the forthcoming Censure debate.

The “Singing Canary” scenario was the reason why outrageous steps were taken to ensure that the former Police Chief, Graham Power was never given the opportunity of defending the allegations trumped up against him by the Wiltshire Police following their costly and mishandled investigation.

During yesterday’s Oral Question time questions were again being asked about John Day, the Hospital’s former Consultant of Obstetrics and Gynaecology who was wrongfully prevented from carrying out his duties for several years, yet no one was ever brought to account. Connetable Phil Rondel was asking Senator Gorst why an agreed statement had not been read during a States Sitting. The question was a follow up to one asked a couple of weeks back and to the great numbers that have been asked since John Day was suspended way back in 2006.  

We had learnt two weeks previously that a large sum of money (£448k) was paid as a settlement to Mr Day in relation to the net losses suffered by him, including in relation to the loss of private income. It also included a contribution to his re-training and legal costs. When pressed about the cost, the Senator stated that the payment was not a package but a settlement, or resolving of an outstanding legal claim from the consultant. In fact the settlement was only a part of the true cost of the suspension which totalled in the region of £3 million.

Again we have the scenario when public money was being used to prevent the truth from being exposed. It would appear that the reason why no disciplinary action was taken against those responsible for keeping John Day away from his duties was because it would have been embarrassing for senior hospital employees and Ministers.

John Day like Graham Power would have loved to have had their “day in court” but that event was denied them. Let us hope that those who have a tale or two to tell are not denied their opportunity when the Committee of Inquiry into the Historic Child Abuse eventually gets under way.