Sunday, 17 October 2010

DRAFT ISLAND PLAN – examined in public – decided in private?

Messrs Chris Shepley, Alan Langton and their helper Helen have gone away to read through boxes of papers and transcripts of hearings submitted to them over the past few months from Jersey.

They are the “outside planning inspectors” appointed to consider Freddie’s legacy – the Draft Island Plan – which will serve the Island for the next ten years or so if approved by the States next year.

Unfortunately, it is a bit worrying that the final submission to the inspectors was a 7,000 word statement from Planning Officer Peter Thorne in defence of the proposed plan delivered after lunch on the last day of the public proceedings.

Throughout the hearings the inspectors had maintained a strict timetable and admitted nobody to speak before their scheduled time. They usually enforced a guillotine too on talking once the Planning Office had responded to any verbal representations made around the discussion table. Thus, Peter Thorne had already finished the proceedings before lunch on the final day with the official policy line – so why was he allowed to sum up at such length after the final bell had been rung for everybody else?

Not only were these final public proceedings a bit worrying because any “late” written submissions sent in prior to the public hearings were also barred although the Planning Office still seemed to be sending in controversial policy statements almost to the end. There was certainly a flurry of participants e-mailing discussion papers amongst themselves because these had been officially rejected as “out of time.”

The outside inspectors had also maintained a vow of virtual Trappist silence during tea breaks between the hearings and removed themselves from the room at every opportunity so as not to engage in conflicting conversations with anybody. They are very senior guys in the UK planning enquiry business so should know the rules.

Yet, their attention to such details did not extend to ensuring that an effective sound system was available so that everybody could be heard. Only constant nagging resulted in a somewhat reluctant response to install a sound system. As is so usual in Jersey – we expect public hearings where speakers cannot be heard – but we might have expected higher standards from such experienced people from the UK (where anti-discrimination laws rule).

Having attended the public hearings every day and participated in several group and individual discussions, this resolute and concerned citizen was nevertheless impressed by the general standards of the examination and the smooth manner in which it progressed.

Whether the inspectors were receiving the critical signals being transmitted by the public is anybody’s guess but at the end of the day, Freddie Cohen and his Department will not be bound to accept any proposals for modification. Soon after Peter Thorne had delivered his final 7,000 words statement, this citizen met Freddie on his way to meet the inspectors but whether they just exchanged Trappist silences is not known.

It wasn’t the final round either for the inspectors and Helen because your resolute citizen encountered them during the Sunday evening following supping in a local CAMRA pub. Alas, the omerta rule prevailed and they would not even exchange hellos or soccer incantations for fear of contamination.

Helen e-mailed later to explain that even such minimalist exchanges with the public were not allowed….

So we must await the outcome of their deliberations and we shall see whether the States will approve the Plan in any shape or form next year. If the whole process is of any real benefit to the Island is doubtful – the best buildings in Jersey were built long before planners were even invented. The worst buildings are the direct result of post-war planning professionalism and now the Jersey Development Company is about to be launched!

Whether or not Freddie will see it through to the end must be doubtful….during our brief street encounter he said “I shan’t be there much longer” or something similar. Was that an iconic or an ironic statement from the Minister?

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.

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