Sunday, 21 November 2010

JERSEY PLANNING can be bad for your wealth

We have posted a number of blogs on planning and related matters in Jersey and we have looked at the administrative board appeals process.

Here we speak with Peter Grainger who was the senior Planning Officer in Jersey and has been involved in the planning process here and in the UK, for a lifetime.

He is somebody who should understand planning law and practice but he expresses some substantial criticisms of the Jersey system. In particular he is concerned at the weight of bureaucracy that bears upon the ordinary planning applicant besides the cost and difficulty of appealing against planning decisions.

Why is the planning process becoming such a burden - why is there so much antagonism in our dealings with the planning department - and does the Jersey planning appeals system contravene Human Rights standards?

Submitted by Thomas Wellard

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Power, the Butcher and the cruellest cuts….

So, the cold wind of austerity has claimed its first 11K victim. The Minister for Housing has revoked the licence of a 11K who has fallen on hard-times and has ordered him or her to vacate the Jersey up-market home.

Shall this family be debarred from joining the queue for social rented accommodation? Or can they make an application for G category “hardship” status and carry on living in the same dwelling or something smaller?

Similar decisions are made every day by many other people in Jersey. Not usually in the 11K super-rich class of course, but the harsh reality of living at the lower levels in this Island need to be much better understood and discussed.

The fact is that there is no obligation on Jersey government to house anybody and the Housing Law is designed to prevent people occupying accommodation rather than enjoying it. Since its introduction in 1949, the housing problems in Jersey – the “shortage” is just one aspect – have become worse. Yet, Deputy Power says that the law will stay in force because it is the main tool of “population control”- and States policy is based upon an annual growth of 150 new households per annum. There must be some logic there somewhere?

Of course, the housing department knows very little about the largest part of housing accommodation in Jersey – the private sector – because it has no need to interfere in this except insofar that it determines who shall or shall not have “quals.” Beyond that, the private sector is more or less left to manage itself under “market-forces” rules. Unfortunately, the old game of catch-up is still being played out between private and public housing costs. If private rents are increased (and many are linked to cost of living rates) then the public sector wants to follow-suit in case it is perceived as “subsidizing” tenants with public money.

Deputy Power’s limited knowledge is mostly based on the 4,500 publicly owned (States) flats and houses that his department administers out of 38,000 total households in the Island. Housing department properties are mostly one bedroom units and the majority of tenants are economically inactive.

Of the 4,500 States households (13,000 people), about 70% receive Income-Support (including reduced rents) and the other 30% pay full rents but it is not known how many can actually afford to do so, because most do not give details of their income etc to the housing department. This is where Graeme “the Duke of Cumberland” Butcher aka Assistant Minister comes in, because he has been tasked to find out.

It is not just out of curiosity either – because the Minister and “the Duke” are desperate to raise money in extra rents where possible and also to invite tenants to leave, if they can afford to rent “in the private sector.” Thus, they hope to free up some accommodation for the 1200 or so household believed to be “on the waiting list” – although nobody has really got a clue about the actual levels of housing need in Jersey because nobody asks the right questions of the right people

.This simple failure was fully exposed at the recent Draft Island Plan public examination but it does not seem to stimulate a more enlightened look at the whole question of housing provision in Jersey.

To his credit, Deputy Power would like to reduce housing “quals” to 5 years residence in parity with the employment laws of Jersey. But he knows full well that the 60 years of institutional discrimination and prejudice supported by the 1949 Housing Law cannot be shifted from the insular mentality. That over £30 millions in “rents” are paid by the “non quals” workers of Jersey each year into the pockets of lodgings landlords does not seem to be critically considered. Yet, that is virtually the same sum that is denied the housing department each and every year, preventing it from providing the social housing that the Island population – as a whole – desperately needs.

Quite how the broken 11K family came to Deputy Power’s knowledge is not clear. Presumably a little bee rather than a large Butcher discovered and disclosed the information upon which the Ministerial power was applied. Whether this family can, in fact, be forced to vacate their property would make an interesting challenge under Human Rights rules – as will the threats of expulsion for the 30% of States tenants who pay the full “fair rents.”

Deputy Power has a bag full of wish list reforms lined-up for the Housing Department which include its virtual scrapping or amalgamation with the Planning Department, the creation of a Housing Association (run on the lines of Jersey Post or Telecoms) and a separate Regulations body... He already favours a 5 – 7 years residence period in granting certain “G” category hardship consents, is against the granting of “J” category permissions to buy but favours 3 years “to lease” only deals, and he is against selling off any more housing stock (except for the 40 deals already agreed) and he has reduced his staffing levels in accordance with CSR cuts…..

Sadly, his plans to widen the criteria of people that can enjoy “social housing” are unlikely to be realised on the basis of post-war Jersey housing history. He acknowledges that there is no longer a category of “affordable housing” for people to buy and he is looking at reviving the States Loan scheme or breathing new life into “shared equity” (but not “shared ownership”) developments….

…..And he wants to be able to borrow money to finance his schemes because his department is sitting upon a £billion of assets yet is starved of funds to do virtually anything. Even if there was time to implement any of his ideas before next summer – as he proposes – the lack of money must surely scupper his and many other departments’ plans. The failed 11K household should be a lesson to us all.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.