Our Island Identity - Part 2
My opinion piece a couple of weeks back around the subject matter of developments impacting local beachside cafes elicited a good deal of interest and comment. Publically anyway there were few dissenters however I thought I’d expose myself to the white heat of a Planning committee meeting where disagreement with planning decisions are given more airtime.
I haven’t attended such a meeting in over a decade and had forgotten just how long and protracted the process is. There are some big impactful decisions being made here and if you are a member of the general public with a day job it’s a huge investment in time should you wish to object strongly to a particular scheme on the day. My Thursday morning came and went but the whole process left me feeling quite uncomfortable, let me explain.
First up was the redevelopment in Kensington place of the Stafford and Revere hotels into desperately needed housing. On the surface of it an admirable scheme although concerns were raised as to what it might be like to live in such a development with young children where in some cases shared spaces get virtually no sunlight. Such are the challenges of complying with an island policy of presumed non-development in the countryside which in turn results in relatively high density building in town. A debate for another day.
The biggest issue for me though was a far more strategic one. If we want to grow our visitor economy how is this possible if the bed nights available continue to be removed from the existing stock through this type of development. The owners of the Savoy Hotel made the point recently that’s it’s difficult to compete in the market with an asset that is no longer fit for purpose. An issue for many local Hoteliers in the face of competition from the likes of Premier Inn.
Shouldn’t there be a policy that if bed nights are being lost in one development then they need to be recouped on another. If nothing is put in place before the next series of closures could we reach a tipping point where airlines no longer have viable numbers of visitors and we end up in some kind of death spiral? Sadly it’s not an issue that the planning committee appears able to resolve.
The second item on the agenda was the “controversial” external seating area put forward by the owners of the Portelet Bay café. This has drawn a lot of on-line comment and due to its sensitivity it’s important that there were no conflicts of interest. It was interesting therefore that whilst committee member Mary Le Hegarat, deputy for St. Helier no.3 district removed herself from the voting on the Kensington Place scheme, Deputy Graham Truscott of St. Brelade No.2 district did not when it came to the vote on the Portelet Bay application.
Now I don’t know what exactly the rules are around conflicts of interest but surely in a contentious application Deputy Truscott seemed a bit too close to the action. No doubt he was well within his rights to vote but to an independent onlooker it didn’t feel right.
That matter aside it was a pretty brutal affair which is sad when you have café owners endeavouring to improve their customers experience pitched against homeowners concerned about the impact this will have on their enjoyment of the area. Much of the argument is around illegal parking, something over which the business owners have no control. It seems extraordinary to me that a café that is held up by Visit Jersey as one of the jewels in the visitor economy crown isn’t worthy of any Parish provided public parking infrastructure.
In two completely different planning applications we saw just how fragmented and lacking is the vision for the future of this Islands visitor economy at both State and Parish level. A Parish unable or unwilling to provide appropriate infrastructure for one of the most spectacular beaches on the Island and a State unwilling to create any type of policy around protecting bed night provision on this Island.
In case you are interested both the Kensington place and Portelet Bay café developments were passed. Hopefully the issues I’ve raised here might result in a little introspection, they should do.