Sunday, December 23, 2012
THE PLÉMONT DEBATE - THE FINAL BLOG ON THIS SUBJECT
THE END OF YEAR POSTING -1
"THE PLÉMONT DEBATE"
IN THE INTERVIEW BELOW I EXPLAIN WHAT WENT ON.
WE LOOK ATTHE ROLE PLAYED BY SENATOR OZOUF IN MAKING SURE THAT THE VOTE WENT AGAINST THE PURCHASE
HOW THE JERSEY EVENING POST CAME OUT WITH THIS CLASSIC PIECE OF PROPAGANDA THAT HAS LEFT MANY SCRATCHING THEIR HEADS IN BEWILDERMENT - NOT THE TREASURY MINISTER, SENATOR OZOUF AS WE WILL SEE.
A sad day for Jersey in the States
Friday 14th December 2012, 11:34AM GMT.
This page has been shared 8 times. View these Tweets.
JERSEY is a sad and diminished place today, let down by small-minded, short-sighted politicians with a warped sense of priorities.
By spurning the bargain of the century with their rejection of Chief Minister Ian Gorst’s proposal to buy the Plémont headland for public enjoyment in perpetuity, the States have sent out the very message which those who place profit before principle were hoping for. That message is that the interests of developers should outweigh the protection of Jersey’s environment, even when it means riding roughshod over the basic tenets of the Island Plan and the States’ own stated commitment to national park status for the coastline.
That can be the only interpretation of yesterday’s painfully close vote, especially so given that it was eventually taken on the basis of a proposed pound-for-pound financial partnership with the National Trust for Jersey which would have involved the taxpayer in spending what amounts to small change in terms of the States budget as a whole.
It was a crass decision, lacking in vision or courage, and the claim of its advocates that the money ‘saved’ by it will be spent on improving schools and hospitals, mending roads or helping old people is simply nonsense. Not a penny more will go towards those needs than would otherwise have been the case.
The intellectual poverty of that argument set the tone for a dispiriting display of this disappointing States Assembly at its worse, with the added irony that the vote was in effect swung by the decision of the spectacularly ill-titled Environment Minister, Deputy Rob Duhamel, whose position on the Council of Ministers is surely now untenable.
The defeat of the Plémont proposal must be a personal disappointment to its lead advocate, Senator Sir Philip Bailhache, who made an apparently irresistible case with skill and eloquence. It must also weaken the position of Senator Gorst, whose first year in office ends not with a decisive assertion of his influence over the House but with an embarrassing failure to win an argument on a major matter of policy direction.
It is, meanwhile, difficult to resist reaching the conclusion that some who voted against the proposition did so merely because it was brought by the former Bailiff, perceived by them as the embodiment of the so-called establishment.
Indeed, the spectacle of dyed-in-the-wool left-wingers flying in the face of the public good and supporting a development which will be of benefit to an extremely wealthy developer and those with the very substantial means required to buy property on the site’s projected luxury estate was an exercise in the absurd.
THIS IS THE TWEET GIVEN BY SENATOR OZOUF REF THE ABOVE EDITORIAL.
“@JEPnews: News - Thrown away http://bit.ly/Xm61Tt ” Have to say this Editorial is spot on. I hope this issue is not over yet. #Plémont
Now, here is the question. Why would the Treasury Minister be saying that the above Garbage of an editorial is spot on????
Simple - it takes the focus away from the work of the Machiavellian.
Assistant Treasury Minister Eddie Noel Voted against
Economic Development Minister Alan Mclean came out against the purchase
Assistant Economic Development Minister Deputy Baker voted against the purchase
Is this just a coincidence? No.
What about the Health Minister Ann Pryke? Yup, she voted against.
As did many of the straight Right Wingers.
The JEP don't want to tell you that though
All is explained in the Interview
Here is the real Treasury Ministers Speech delivered by his assistant Deputy Noel.
I am about to deliver what I believe to be described in military terms as “friendly fire”, hence my desire to speak early in this debate to allow my furry friends to fire back. What we are really asking today is for the States to acquire effectively a third of the Plémont site for up to anything from £4 million plus costs up to … well, that is my point, we do not know. We do not know what the upper cost will be. So the final figure for compulsory purchase could be much more than the £4 million residual land value recently calculated by professionals. We simply do not know, we can only guess. As I understand it, under compulsory purchase it is we, the States, make an offer of shall we say £4 million and then we pay over almost immediately three-quarters of that sum on account. The land is then transferred across to us and the former owner of the land can either accept the offer or reject it. I am in no doubt whatsoever that the current owners will reject a compulsory purchase order offer, whatever that may be. They will seek independent arbitration as is their right. Under such arbitration what can be guaranteed is that we cannot be certain of the final total cost to the taxpayer. Under C.P. nobody can tell us what the final cost will be and that worries me. So, is using taxpayers’ money to acquire an extra third of the Plémont site what we should be doing? In my humble opinion, and after considering the “once in a lifetime chance” as some will say, or perhaps once in 100 years, or once in 1,000 years, I do not think so. Perhaps I could be described as being short-sighted in holding this view and that I and others like me should be looking at the bigger picture. Well, when I want to buy something I look inside my wallet - something as a Jerseyman I do not like to do that often - and that I do, to see if I can afford whatever object I am looking at. Can we really afford this nice-to-have, and I admit it is a very desirable nice-to-have but it is not essential. I look at the capital programme for 2013 and the draft capital programmes for 2014 and 2015 and I worry. I worry that we will incur substantial additional capital costs for a new police headquarters, should we use the Green Street site. I look at the requirements for capital expenditure on health, on housing, on our infrastructure, and on our education needs. I look at the capital funding pressures and I simply cannot justify to myself purchasing a nice-to-have. Our finances are tight; I have no desire to make them tighter. I would not say that it is impossible for the Treasurer to find a way of financing the purchase of Plémont. It is not going to be easy. There are no hidden pots of money. One source could be contingencies. Is this really what we set such funds up to be used for? As the Constable of St. John reminded us before lunch, these funds were set aside for matters that come up unexpectedly. What would the F.P.P. (Fiscal Policy Panel) say in these economic times of such a move? The Council of Ministers’ number one priority was, and still is I believe, in the words of the Chief Minister: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” If we had the spare cash, and in reality I believe we do not, surely we should be using those resources to tackle our number one priority. Just yesterday we heard of the collapse of one of our larger building firms with a loss of several jobs just before Christmas. I do not believe that using our contingencies and our monies to purchase a nice-to-have is what we should be doing. We should be concentrating on our number one priority. But please, Members, do not get me wrong; with regards to Plémont my number one priority is to get the site cleared, to remove the eyesore that has remained there for far too long. I just happen to believe that the quickest, most certain way to do so, is to use planning obligations to ensure that the developer remediates the site before they do anything else and to do so within a specified time. I am also concerned that the National Trust will not have sufficient funds to completely clear the site from day one and will have to carry out further fundraising. I know and fully appreciate that they are well on their way to raising the funds to pay the States for the formerly proposed £2 million, now £3 million, and that they have substantial pledges and a significant proportion of their estimated £1.1 million needed for the remediation. On that one note, one of my colleagues who sits behind me, a few weeks ago told me that he had seen a written quote from a qualified professional for clearing and remediating the site, which amounted to some £2 million. Even the independent professional used to establish the residual land value of £4 million has estimated that the cost of demolishing the existing buildings on the site and to remove the asbestos alone is £1.1 million excluding the landscaping costs. So perhaps the National Trust provision is on the light side. The National Trust also claim that they have substantial amounts of backlog maintenance, almost £2.9 million, in fact, as per their 31st December 2011 accounts which their C.E.O. (Chief Executive Officer) distributed to all States Members in his email of 28th November, this backlog maintenance figure is not the end of it. I quote from note 16 on their 2011 accounts that in addition to the £2.9 million I have just mentioned: “There are a large number of unquantified outstanding tasks for our lands such as dry stone wall repairs, woodland management and new fencing” which means that the overall backlog figure is much higher. They go on to say: “Given the extent of the tasks facing us and the increasing areas of land and the number of properties we are responsible for, it is unlikely that in the absence of very substantial donations and unencumbered legacies the costs will always outweigh available funding.” I am sorry but how can they care for and maintain Plémont if they cannot afford to carry out all of the work currently required on their existing portfolio? Will they need additional funding from taxpayers to do so? This whole compulsory purchase process has far too many variables for my simple desire to get the site cleared as soon as possible. I favour strong planning obligations of operations that include for the developer to provide funding for the first 25 years of maintenance of the two-thirds of the land that will be given back to the public. I would support the idea that these two-thirds are transferred to the ownership of the National Trust for free along with the fund set aside by the developer for the maintenance of those lands for 25 years. This brings me on to another point: why just Plémont? Does not all our coastland deserve the same level of protection? When the Watersplash site comes up for redevelopment should we not buy that and restore that back to nature? Should we not have a project to remove all of the World War II structures from our headlands and return those back to nature, because after all they were only constructed in the 1940s? Plémont Holiday Village was constructed in the 1930s and the hotel predates that. Should the States use compulsory purchase while depriving a landowner of their rights to assist another organisation in their endeavours? When has compulsory purchase been used by Government against a landowner in favour of another body? Is it in fact legal under the laws of this Island? It appears from the Solicitor General’s opinion that that is for this Assembly to decide. Could the owners of the land challenge such a compulsory purchase order in the courts? Who knows? If so, who would carry the risks of the costs associated with such an action? Compulsory purchase has a time and place. I would support compulsory purchase to acquire property, say, adjacent to the existing General Hospital site for expansion and rebuilding as an example, but to require a headland on behalf of what is a third party; perhaps not. I would like to recall to Members what is a true story. In the late 1960s a Jersey working-class family with 6 children owned what could be described today as a small holding, consisting of a farmhouse, some outbuildings and an adjoining field, all of which were in St. Helier on the outskirts of town. The owners at the time wanted to carve up the field into 6 plots, one for each of their children. Their thinking was that over time each of their children would be able to use the States Loan scheme to build their own homes. I believe that this is not an unreasonable ambition for the parents, however, not unsurprisingly, the Planning Department of the time rejected all the applications because the field could still be used for agricultural purposes. However, within a year or 2 the owners were approached by the States and offered a sum of money for the small holding and the field. Now admittedly that sum was above the agricultural value of the land but it was nowhere near the development value. The owners were given quite a simple choice; sell at the offered price or have to sell under compulsory purchase at a value less than that offer, that is, at the agricultural value. The result for the owners was that with 6 children, some of whom were relatively young, that they accepted the offer albeit with some reluctance. The outcome for the States of Jersey was Pomme d’Or Farm Estate. Was that equitable? Perhaps it was not. I have a good reason to like C.P.O. (Compulsory Purchase Order), the process, unless it is used for a really good cause such as facilitating a new hospital; but to buy a third of the Plémont site? I will let Members make their own minds up on that. For those Members who may be tempted by a land-swap arrangement, let us be clear. A land swap is no different to paying in cash. If you swap a piece of land worth say, £5 million for another, what you are really doing is paying £5 million in cash because that is what you could have raised if you had sold the original piece of land. As regards the idea of getting an extra planning gain from the sale of the development of another States site which could generate additional monies to pay for Plémont, with all due respects I think that is a flawed argument. In practice it is hard enough to extract planning gain currently from States-owned sites let alone extra planning gain. As an example I cite the recent refusal of a planning application at Gorey. Property Holdings were trying to obtain planning permission on a property in Gorey purely to extract a planning gain so the site could be sold at best value for the taxpayer.
What Property Holdings has ended up with is the suggestion that the site is used for something that will not generate the same level of gain but instead it will generate a cost, completely opposite to what Property Holdings is trying to achieve. A few weeks ago, during the debate on the M.T.F.P., we had a number of Members, including myself, debating over what the preference shares in Jersey Telecom were worth. Different evaluations were proposed, all based on reasonable methods of calculation. Today we have a similar debate but as to what is the value of Plémont. To some it is priceless and I accept that but today we must confine ourselves to what arbitrators would consider value under a compulsory purchase order. There may be a number of reasonable valuation methods which the board of arbitrators would consider. They would include the tried and tested method of the £4 million valuation as used but they may consider other bases and assumptions valuing the land. We have no certainty. Because of my Property Holdings hat I have seen 2 professional valuations by 2 different professional firms, one carried out in September before the planning obligations had been published by the Minister for Planning and Environment in his Ministerial Decision and that had an estimated residual land value of £6.6 million. The second, with the benefit of the knowledge of the planning obligations has been undisclosed to States Members and has a residual land value of £4 million. But they both used the same method. Admittedly, they used slightly different assumptions, slightly different. So how can the spread of £2.6 million between them be explained? The first value, the gross sale proceeds of the 28 houses at £26.4 million; the second at £25.4 million, so only £1 million difference there. The cost of the first to build the houses was £16.3 million versus the latest valuation of £18.1 million. That is an additional £1.8 million difference. Both used the same percentage for developer’s profit and I am advised that this is currently the market standard. So 2 valuations, both carried out in 2012, are some £2.6 million apart, both using the same method. Incidentally, if you combine the best and the worst of both valuations you end up with a spread from a land value of £2 million up to £8.5 million. Some additional information that I received yesterday afternoon is that if you flex the current valuation figures by increasing the gross sale proceeds by 5 per cent and if you decrease the build cost down by 5 per cent, I am advised that you end up with a revised residual land value of not £4 million but £5.4 million. Small differences in percentages can end up in a large difference in the value of the land. What does all this tell us? Quite simply, that valuations are not a science and they cannot give us certainty. On a slightly different matter, it has been suggested that the central area of the land to be gifted to us is nothing more than a village green and that because of that Islanders will not use it. Yesterday I asked the owners’ architect if the public will have access across the link road from the lower part of the land past the third group of houses and he confirmed that that would indeed be the case. Therefore this area in reality is part of the whole area that is being gifted and not some separate, isolated island of natural land. Finally, on a slightly different tack, we have all received, as the good Connétable of St. John has in front of him, the National Trust green heart cards sent from their supporters. Perhaps they have not all come from their supporters. I was shocked to witness these green hearts being touted round at St. Peter’s residential care home recently. Elderly residents were being asked if they would like to fill them in. This happened while I was visiting my parents who recently moved into the home. Two young ladies came round with a bundle of these green hearts. They even said that it was not going to cost the States anything because the National Trust was going to be paying for Plémont. When I pointed out that this was not the case they were a little shocked themselves. I am sure that the National Trust would not condone such antics and if this had been a candidate for election doing a similar thing we would be concerned and rightly so. But I think we should congratulate the National Trust on running an excellent campaign, even if some of their supporters on this one occasion were a little bit too enthusiastic. In summary, I have emptied my virtual gun and delivered my friendly fire. I hope that the return fire will not be too fierce. We want very similar outcomes for Plémont. I just want to keep the States’ wallet firmly closed and I want to avoid the use of compulsory purchase for a nice-to-have.
Part Time Investigative Journalist