SE District issues

Route des Blanches planning application

I was delighted that the application to develop on the field at Route des Blanches in St Martin was refused on 16 December 2015. This was nothing to do with not wanting to see new developments in the Parish, but the fact that this was the wrong place. This was a case of trying to get permission before the new Island Development Plan got approved as it would clearly have been refused, being outside the Local Centre of St Martin and a greenfield site.

The site in question comprises prime agricultural land. In fact, it is Grade I soil, the best quality on the entire island. The Housing Department are intent on building wherever they can to justify an outdated, flawed and failing policy. What we need is a new policy that takes account of the circumstances of today, not 12 years ago.

That is why I was so pleased that my amendment, instructing Housing and Treasury & Resources Departments to undertake an independent broad- based review of the local housing market was passed by the States earlier this year. You can read more about that in my earlier posts.

The open planning meeting demonstrated the inconsistencies in current planning policies and how a new plan is needed sooner rather than later.

Well done to all those who were part of the campaign against the development and who spoke at the open planning meeting.

St Andrew’s School Liaison Group

Following the decision to close St Andrew’s Primary School I was invited to join the group acting as a liaison between the parents, teachers and pupils of St Andrew and the Education Department.

Things were frosty at the start, probably understandably given how raw everyone felt about the closure. However, everyone acted in a very constructive way to ensure that children experienced as smooth a transition to their new schools as possible. Much credit should go to Sarah Barrett and Charles Swainston for the hard work they did on the group.

Following the closure of the school in July 2015, the group was disbanded in December after its last meeting. It is hoped that in the near future the building can reopen and continue to be at the heart of the community. I still believe the decision to close the school was wrong, but hopefully the group helped to make the inevitable as smooth a process as possible.

Green Acres Dementia Care Home

It became obvious to me very early on as a member of HSSD that the ageing demographic of Guernsey would result in growing pressures on the department in the next ten years. We want to be able to see people supported to be able to live independent lives as far as possible in their own homes and that it is a major strand in the transformation of health and social care services that we are now developing. It makes sense economically and socially.

However, there is currently, and there will increasingly be, a need for specialist care homes for those of our community who can sadly no longer look after themselves as a result of dementia.

After a long saga of refusals and appeals, the application finally went to an open planning meeting. I spoke at the meeting and my speech is below. In it I focussed on the discrepancies in Commerce and Employment’s argument that Guernsey could not afford to lose the bed stock. I supported the planning application and change of use request for Green Acres whilst on the Commerce and Employment Board and I continue to believe that the Department needs to review its policy of opposing any application for change of use of existing tourist accommodation.

Common sense prevailed in the end and the application was granted.

Speech to Open Planning Meeting

“I would like just to focus on the adequacy of bed stock both now and in the foreseeable future.

The 65% occupancy level set by C&E is stated in the RAP supplementary booklet as

‘minimum occupancy rate which, it considers, will be necessary to sustain a viable sector. It states, and I quote ‘the quality of accommodation offered by the Island’s visitor sector has been in overall decline, relative to the market. This is probably due to a lack of investment resulting from low average occupancy figures.’

The cumulative average occupancy rates for the last 10 years has been 56.77%, lower than the 57.42% in 2004, with an all time low of 51.17% last year. Not only that, but this is signifcantly below the 65% minimum occupancy levels set by the Department. So the Department is actually resisting a planning application that supports its policy.

Reference to seasonal occupancy levels are a red herring. If demand increases in the winter period, hotels may look to open year round, or extend their operating periods, to meet it, especially if it means that the room rates they can charge do not have to be heavily discounted.

In terms of losing bed stock were Green Acres disappear, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it is not included in the Aries figure. Were it to be, given it is has zero occupation, the average occupancy levels will reduce further. It should also be remembered that plans were submitted and permission approved to build a new hotel with roughly the same number of rooms as Green Acres, just a mile down the road at Jerbourg.

In terms of the future adequacy of bed stock, reference is made to  C&E having developed a policy for the future for tourism and that is to grow tourist population to 400,000 by 2025. It should be pointed out that this is an objective, forming part of its strategic plan. It has not been approved by the States of Deliberation and does not represent States policy. Set out in that strategy are action plans, some of which will require funding. The one that stands out being the extension of the runway. Given that the strategy has not been approved by the States and the Department will have to go to the States to obtain funding, the success of the strategy is far from assured.

Whilst it is an excellent document certain statements do raise question marks over  comments made by the Department in its submissions.

For example, in its submission the Department makes the point that there are very restricted opportunities in planning terms for the development of new or additional visitor accommodation. However, in the strategy it lists one of its action plans being to facilitate access to States land and property for Tourism Development.  By resisting this application it implies that the Department doesn’t hold out much hope of success.

Finally, and going back to the objective of increasing the tourist population to 400,000 by 2025, this represents a 25% increase in tourist numbers. If it is assumed, and there is no reason to believe it shouldn’t be, that this will also mean a 25% increase in staying visitors, there will still be sufficient capacity to absorb the increase for the next 10 years based on occupancy levels over the last 10 years, averaging just 57%.

It is clear that there is a surplus of bed stock that is unsustainable. Far from seeing Green Acres as a problem, this should be seen as an opportunity both to maintain a sustainable and viable tourist sector, and to support a desperate need for members of our community.”

 

 

Liberation Day Celebrations 2015

What an amazing weekend!

I volunteered to help out in town as one of the ‘Liberation Groundforce’ in St Peter Port, assisting people to get to where they needed to and selling brochures. I’ve never seen so many people together on Guernsey as that day. I was only booked for a 2 hour slot, but I got swept up in the sheer atmosphere of the day and ended up staying for more than double that. I definitely needed to put my feet up after that.

The next day saw Parish celebrations. I contributed to the St Martin’s celebrations by producing ration books and ID cards, together with vouchers, for the various events on the day, including the amazing tea party where some of my fellow Deputies did the cooking. It was good to see the men put their aprons on for a change! The Samba Band were excellent and I really enjoyed the display of vintage cars up Rue Maze.

So, a great few days and thanks must go to all those who organised the various activities big and small. Without the brilliant volunteers we really would not have had such a weekend to remember.

Petit Port steps

Petit Port has been called the jewel in the crown of our south coast. However, it was closed for most of 2014 and the first quarter of 2015 due to concerns of the Environment Department about falling rocks.

Myself, Deputies Sillars and Luxon joined forces with the St Martin’s Douzaine to put pressure on the Department to reopen the steps. It took quite a bit of campaigning in the media and various meetings and correspondence, but this we succeeded in doing just before the tourist season restarted in 2015. However, there are still concerns that the same may happen again, especially as the Department is no longer funding annual maintenance of the cliffs. It is very much a case of ‘watch this space’.

Primary School Closures

I took an active part in the campaign against the closure of St Andrew’s Primary School. It was a tough battle but I was honoured to be part of a fantastic team of people who worked so hard to try to save their wonderful school.

Sadly,  it all came to nothing and we lost the debate. It was really lost before the debate took place but no-one involved in the campaing could have done more. That result was utterly depressing. St Andrew’s is at the heart of the Parish and a little bit of Guernsey history is being destroyed as a result.

This was not about the quality of the other schools. I have personal experience  of St Martin’s school and know what a great school it is, both my children having gone there. It was all about retaining a sense of community and also, the fact we did not believe the figures provided by the Education Department actually stacked up.

Time will tell who was right.

This was the longest speech I have made to date, but it was essential that I put across the reasons why the schools should remain open. Due to its length I have added it as an attachment.Education Final



Mobile: 07781 139385

Email: heidi@heidisoulsby.com