The minister who was ultimately elected turned out to be Senator Freddie Cohen, who, it is fair to say, has great concern for and great interest in both parts of his portfolio.
However, although the theory behind a single structure dealing with planning and environment might be attractive, there are, without doubt, practical difficulties. It is, for instance, quite obvious that there will always be tension between making planning decisions, which lead to development in many cases, and the general duty of preserving our natural and man-made environment.
Senator Cohen has demonstrated his ability to resolve such conflicts to a greater degree than has often been evident in the past. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that future ministers charged with the same duties will be able to achieve the balance that has, in general, characterised his time in office.
Quite clearly, a minister who favoured development at the cost of damaging the environment — or vice versa — could be a complete disaster.
With this in mind, Deputy Paul Le Claire’s proposal that planning and environment should be separate portfolios has much to commend it. Even if its immediate impact would be limited, it would offer a safeguard against problems which are all too likely to emerge in the future — particularly if, in the wake of the present recession, there is a new drive from certain quarters for growth without restraint.
It can nevertheless be argued that Deputy Le Claire’s proposition runs counter to one of the aims of the move to ministerial government. Simplification of government structures was always among the goals, with the consequent benefits for ‘joined-up’ thinking and more streamlined policymaking.
When Members weigh up the pros and cons of the possible change, they will have to decide if the extra layers of complexity and the enlargement of the executive are sufficient reasons to reject the proposed division of responsibilities.
A glance around the Island is enough to make clear that, even with Senator Co-hen’s well-established belief in a balanced approach, economic arguments tend to win the day, with the result that the planning side of his divided department often dominates the environmental one.
It is equally clear that an independent environment department, with its own minister, would be better placed to tackle the much wider range of issues that already come under that heading and can be expected to assume much greater importance in the years ahead. We could well be very glad of competing ministerial perspectives as new challenges emerge and new strategies are adopted.