Mr President, members, guests,
Thank you for inviting me back. Although I meet a number of Chamber members and sub-committees on a regular basis, it's been quite a while since I last spoke here at Chamber lunch, and I was delighted to accept this opportunity to update you on what's happening inside the ‘Poison Chalice Ministry’.
When I was here last I said "I see opportunities, not challenges" and while it sounds pretty desperate to resort to quoting yourself, especially so early in one’s speech, I still very much see things that way.
I was asked recently if I was happy with my achievements thus far. In all honesty, personally, I don't really think I've made enough of a difference. However, together with my team in the Department of the Environment, I think we have achieved a huge amount during the last three years, since I became Minister.
In the next few minutes I hope to give a summary of those achievements and explain that there is still so much more to do.
I can hear some of you thinking “Please no! You’ve done quite enough already” but, let's start by answering a few questions.
Will I be offering myself for re-election next year? Provided there's no major personal issues. Yes. I'm hugely proud to represent my parish in the States Assembly.
If re-elected will I seek a ministerial role? Absolutely yes. And that role would be the job I currently do.
I'm just as passionate about this job as I ever was, maybe even more so. Goodness knows why. In the private sector the harder you work and the more you achieve, the better off you are. In politics currently, the harder you try, and the more you do, the more criticism you get. That's life I suppose, but trying to do the right thing, finding the compromise that allows us all to move forward together is a real challenge.
One thing that spurs me on is the fact that there is no doubt that the environment is increasingly important to Islanders. The results of last year's ‘My Jersey’ survey showed that climate change, sustainable energy, air and water quality, and the protection of our natural and historic environment were right at the top of people's priority list. That's great news for us in Environment, but after doing our bit to balance the budget, and delivering a 30 per cent plus net budget reduction, it can be hard work at times to make progress.
The wide range of issues my team faces on a daily basis seems endless, and compared to Health and Education, Environment is still a very low priority when it comes to budgets. However, as I'm going to show, we are delivering, and we have a plan to continue to deliver.
So, I'd like right at the beginning to thank all my staff - everyone, throughout every section of my department. They are committed and passionate people, and I'm proud to work with them. Yes, they challenge me on many and various issues and we have some, shall we say, colourful conversations, but we always find the necessary compromise, provided of course it's one I agree with (!). Seriously though, I'd like to think we are increasingly becoming a pragmatic team, using common sense to come up with practical policies and solutions. I want all my officers to be up front, consistent and have a #nosurprises ethos, and I'd like to think we've come a fair way to delivering on that since I became Minister.
Delivery so far
So, what have we completed thus far? We’ve delivered a new planning appeals system. It’s one that allows the ‘person on the street’ to have their voice heard, one that’s cheaper, quicker and more accessible to our customers, one that will get better and quicker still.
We’ve worked with Infrastructure to sort out asbestos, and literally buried the threat posed by that serious legacy issue out of harm’s way at La Collette.
We’ve delivered, and will continue to deliver, on my commitment to cut red tape, and modified the planning rules known as the General Development Order to allow residents to do more without permission.
We’ve worked with Economic Development, farmers and land owners to implement a new Rural Economy Strategy, one that I know will deliver environmental benefit in exchange for taxpayer’s money.
We have a new Access Strategy to help deliver our footpath network and add to the 70 kilometres we currently enjoy, the wonderful new St Peter’s Valley path being the latest addition.
We’ve changed the length of planning permits from five to three years to encourage approvals to be ‘built out’.
We’ve introduced tough measures for bass fishermen - not universally popular (as my answerphone and inbox will testify and I've been called some names I hadn't heard since my farming days) but already delivering results. And I’m also proud that we’ve successfully worked with the Jersey Fishermen’s Association to introduce a new scheme to help youngsters get a start in one of our very most traditional industries.
We’ve also worked really hard with our French cousins, and used our most polite French phrases, to ban dredging from some of our most valuable marine habitats in the Minquiers and the Écréhous. It was tough going at times, but we stuck to our guns and got the result we needed.
We’ve agreed a new Water Plan to protect both surface and groundwater from contamination and worked alongside all sectors of the farming industry to start delivering some real sustainable long term improvements in the quality of our water.
We’ve formed the Jersey National Park and with people like Jim Hopley and Mike Stentiford leading us, what a great addition to our hospitality offering that will be for the future.
Most recently I’ve introduced a new guidance document on Planning Obligation Agreements. I've done that to help developers, before they get to submit any application, consider the direct effect of their schemes on both the community and the environment.
Finally, we’ve helped co-ordinate everyone involved with our town centre to maintain a vibrant retail core for our capital, and we currently have many examples of people and companies investing in the heart of St Helier, which brings me nicely on to more work that’s been started and will be continued over the next few years.
I’m determined that, now those unsightly containers full of asbestos have gone, that we will carry on working with the Department for Infrastructure to open the first section of headland at the La Collette reclamation site to the public. It’s a great area and everyone should have access to it.
I also can't underestimate the need for all involved to resolve the issues around Fort Regent. The work currently underway inside Sport will help guide us, but there's infrastructure at the Fort that has to be made safe - that's crucial.
It’s not been everyone’s favorite thing, but we will shortly conclude the review of the Island's historic environment. Around 4,500 of Jersey’s most historic sites and properties will finally have additional protection from inappropriate development.
We will also shortly conclude two further strands of work concerning listed buildings, specifically windows and doors. Both ‘Permitted Development’ and planning guidance will be changed to allow people to make alterations that weren't previously possible. I haven't got time to elaborate here, but I hope these changes will be well received by most.
We’re going to do some ground breaking work on air quality. Along with other measures, we plan to put real time sensors for air quality on buses to help the public make their own decisions about how they travel and the routes they take.
On the same subject, I will continue to push for more facilities for electric cars and plug-in hybrids. We’ve got to keep striving for more carbon reductions from the vehicles we drive.
I’m hopeful that the investments that we’ve made in hi-tech infrastructure, our fibre network, will allow us via 5G to help develop driverless technology that, along with EVs and hybrids, is coming down the road at us at a great speed.
Using more real time ‘tech’ we will monitor water quality, and the movement of people. Using drone technology we will further monitor plant disease, invasive species, and fire risk in the countryside.
We will deliver, early next year, our new Planning Application Online facility. Not without problems in its creation, it will allow us, and more importantly, applicants, to go genuinely paperless.
After speaking to many residents in our most recently-built houses, and with more than 260 responses, we will very shortly be consulting on improving residential standards. Space, density and (most importantly) parking will all be addressed. And watch out for more green roofs, more amenity roofs. I'm determined to use all roof areas better.
Monitoring and protecting ‘on-site wildlife’ is, and continues to be, a challenging issue for developers and property owners, myself included. I will be introducing changes to planning guidance that will allow for more mitigation, but with less time lost and cost incurred.
We will continue to help farmers find ways to diversify the crops they grow. Hemp and tea are two of the most recent efforts, but we must find others. Crops that use little or no inputs, that is chemicals and fertiliser, need promotion to further improve water quality and biodiversity.
Getting these types of improvement, in return for taxpayers’ money in the form of subsidies, was something that was of great interest to Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, when I met him recently in Wales. I was there at the invitation of the Welsh Environment Minister. I will further develop relationships with UK MPs in the last few months between now and next May.
Jersey Infrastructure Levy
Before May we will also, hopefully, deliver the Jersey Infrastructure Levy legislation. To say that this really hasn’t been everyone’s favorite subject would be massive understatement. I’ve had numerous meetings with all concerned, but the consultation period has closed in the last few days and, following any changes I may well make as a result of the responses, I hope to take the proposals to, and through, the States Assembly before Christmas.
JIL is seen as yet another cost to the industry, but it’s designed very specifically to take just a very small part of the uplift in value that any landowner enjoys when they receive an approval on a planning application. Surely it can’t be wrong to ask for a tiny share of those windfall profits to be returned for the public good? It’s also yet another demonstration of my commitment to the construction industry to have a ‘no surprises’ policy...another clear and open calculation that can be done well before any application is made.
Income from JIL should go to the Future St Helier initiative, and help deliver essential infrastructure that is currently unfunded. More projects like the wider pavements in Castle Street and the pedestrian area very recently finished at Charing Cross - funds to deliver more green open public amenity space not dissimilar to the areas outside this hotel and the Pomme d’Or - areas that give so much back to the Island.
The quality of all rented accommodation will be further improved as we work on accrediting landlords and improving housing standards. Using the star rating system we've developed so successfully for ‘Eat Safe’, we will drive up the standard of all rental accommodation to the Better Homes Standards already adopted, and being exceeded, by Andium Homes.
Andium gives me great hope for the future. As of only last Friday, they now propose to co-ordinate their developments at Ann Court, Ann Street Brewery and Gas Place, making the experience for pedestrians properly linked up, greener, more open, and most importantly, safer.
Finally, I can't help but mention the Waterfront Masterplan review. We will, very shortly, be engaging with everyone about the future of this most important site. To me the existing masterplan is too restrictive, too detailed, too (dare I say) downright boring. We have so much potential on this site. We need a more fluid approach, one that doesn't tie us down in the future, one that allows us to develop this area of St Helier in the best possible way. This south west corner of our capital needs co-ordination, and I hope that we can consider how to properly integrate the waterfront with all the areas it touches and affects.
So, that’s just a little of what we’ve achieved in the Department of the Environment recently, and what we will deliver very soon, but I mentioned the future, and this is, for me, when it gets really interesting, and really important.
That’s why, if I am fortunate enough to get re-elected, I want to stay where I am. I won’t need time to ‘bed in’ - I’m up to speed with my portfolio, and I want to have four years to drive forward some real changes to policy. I want us to continue redesigning the department, and expanding its remit.
I want my officers to be even more flexible. Why send out three people to do three separate, but similar, jobs at the same site or in the same field? We’ve already started this work but we can do more, and by looking outside my department I can help make government work better as well.
Maybe in the next government Trading Standards would be a really good fit with Environmental Health?
Maybe waste and traffic policy could sit very comfortably inside my existing policy teams? I know I already push my policy officers hard, but, if you want something done then ask someone who’s busy!
We should really have a discussion about whether the funding for the rural economy should come over to the Environment Department.
Finally, we must consider ring fencing environmental taxation for environmental improvement. We have to reduce further carbon emissions. We have to find ways to help incentivise electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. We must use more public transport. Surely we should financially assist those that are prepared to make better environmental decisions?
So, what are these issues that I want to tackle - these big issues that need more than one session of government to address?
Island Plan review
Certainly one of the things we are obliged to do in the next four years is the review of the Island Plan. It’s widely accepted that it’s too big, too long, too unwieldy, and we intend to do something about that. It won’t be easy, but I want a smaller, easier to use, clearer document, and by 2021, we will deliver it.
Along with that new plan will be, I very much hope, other new policies, including the following:
Surface level parking. I can think of no greater waste of space in St Helier than to just park a car on a piece of land and do nothing else. Build offices, residential or green space on top, put the cars underground, do what you like but don’t waste space in town. Use that space better - you can expect me to be encouraging that.
Protection for our coast and countryside
Brown cows in green fields. We can all picture that vision of our world famous dairy cows grazing in green spring grass, but at what cost? I want farming that is sustainable. I want even greater protection for our coast and countryside. On land and sea, our natural environment is more under threat than ever. We need new policies that better co-ordinate the protection of our natural riches.
We must do even more to clean up our water. It is an increasingly precious commodity and I want to keep working with Jersey Water and the farming community to do that.
We will have more strenuous building control regulations. Small numbers of carbon neutral houses are already here, but there’s no reason at all why we can’t aim for affordable and social housing that costs nothing to heat. The benefits speak for themselves.
Finally, empty buildings. As with surface car parks, empty buildings, any empty structures, are a wasted resource. We have demand for new development, over 1,500 planning applications just last year, but before we seek to develop yet more of our Island, let’s use every structure we currently have to best effect. And yes, we at Planning need to do much more to find the compromise to make that happen.
I couldn’t address you today without mentioning Brexit. Farmers will almost certainly continue with their UK-based exports, but it’s how those farms maintain their workforce that concerns me. Our fishing industry also needs to retain its main export market on the continent. In both cases there’s a massive amount of absolutely vital work to be done.
The Granville Bay Treaty is due for review. Despite the challenges we know we face in this regard, I am prepared to do whatever it takes to secure a long-term future for our fishermen. The potential consequences of many more boats fishing in our territorial waters, as a result of Brexit, mustn’t be underestimated. For me, failure to come to an agreement over the treaty is not an option. We must safeguard all our marine resources for future generations.
Electricity and climate change
Our Electricity Law was written in 1937. Just think about that for a minute - 1937. Yes of course it’s been updated since then, but we need an energy law that keeps Jersey up to speed, and allows for the production and consumption of any type of new energy in the future.
Electricity may be here to stay, indeed with the internal combustion engine being replaced by electric motors, we are probably on the verge of a new electrical revolution, but how we produce and manage that electricity will continue to change as necessity, science and technology drive us forward. It’s a daunting piece of work, but it's a challenge I'm happy to take on. We must have legislation that allows us to move with the times and stay ahead of the curve.
Climate Change. The biggest threat to the globe that we currently face. In conjunction with all other States departments, Environment will lead on, and develop a plan to tackle the effects of climate change in Jersey. Extremes of weather will become a norm - sea levels will continue to rise. We’ve got lots of work to do, but equally we’ve got sufficient time in which to do that work. We can’t be complacent, but by the end of the next session of government, we will know what we need to do, where we need to do it, and how much it will cost.
So, there’s just a few things to be going on with!
As a government minister, I’ve been criticised by some for not promoting a manifesto before the last election. However, I’m putting my cards on the table today. If re-elected to my current post then (like it or not) everyone will know exactly what to expect.
Looking back, what have been the highlights and lowlights for me so far? It's been difficult, but I've chosen just one of each.
Highlights and lowlights
I’d like to highlight the ongoing work done by farmers and growers to reduce nitrates and pesticides. I take my hat off to them for coming to the table and delivering environmental improvements and better quality ground water. Alongside Jersey Water, the agricultural industry and my department have worked together to really start to make a difference.
Among many others, one of the low points for me is that I haven’t done a better job of protecting some areas of our countryside. The word ‘disappointed’ doesn’t actually get close. Jersey can expect me to do better, and I will. The land law needs to be changed, but upheld. We are, as a department, slowly losing our grasp of the countryside, and we lose control at our peril.
Mr President, driving change forward is always going to be a compromise and getting agreements on all those issues I’ve spoken about today is a real challenge. But it’s an opportunity that I’m up for and I hope that we can all do our small part in making this wonderful island of ours an even better place to live and work.
That’s why I say to all members of the Jersey Chamber of Commerce today, to the Jersey Construction Council, to the Association of Jersey Architects, to Jersey Heritage, to the Société Jersiaise and the National Trust for Jersey, to the Jersey Farmers Union and the Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Association, to the Jersey Fishermen’s Association and their counterparts in Brittany and Normandy, to all those very many unpaid people who help protect and promote our environment, to everyone: Get involved, and take a real part in deciding the future policies for your Island.
Whether it is planning or building, on land or sea, flora or fauna, whether it’s any part of our Island. I very strongly believe that the Environment Department is, and will be, after all, and at the end of the day, the department that delivers the ultimate compromise for our future prosperity here in Jersey.
I’d ask everyone here to stick with us, help us, and work with us, because, only by working together can we deliver the very best for THAT future.