Environment must take a strong lead

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From Peter Double.

I NOTED with interest your editorial comment (JEP, 27 April) giving thought to the possible separation of the Environment Division and Planning and Building Services.

I worked as a consultant for the Planning and Environment department from 2001 to 2006 and spent several years prior to that making environmental video programmes and writing brochures for the then Environmental Services Unit.

Today, staff would place themselves in a precarious position were they to admit openly that there has always been a ‘poacher, gamekeeper’ feeling between the two departments, but no such restrictions tie the hands of a retired old codger like me.

I do appreciate just how elastic the word ‘environment’ can be, but however hard I try I cannot relate it to ‘building’ or ‘planning’. I think the two divisions should be separate and be seen to be open and confrontational when necessary.

I would like to see strong leadership at the head of a tough Ministry for the Environment – a ministry prepared to take the initiative in environmental matters instead of keeping a low profile and leaving the major battles to non-government organisations.

The Environment Division is full of intelligent professionals but they are led by a minister whose first choice was, and is, Planning and Building Services. He actually gave the Environment Division to his number two. No, it simply won’t do!

At this very moment there is an opportunity to choose a tough, environmentally aware politician to head the Environment Division, one capable of winning the support of the non-government organisations and one who is prepared to spend time with his division and offer an open door to an office which might even be actually on site, at Howard Davis Farm.

I experienced a light example of the division between the two departments when I was ‘carpeted’ by the chief officer because I had used the banner ‘Environmental Services Unit’ when advertising a ‘Planet Jersey’ exhibition. I was told in no uncertain terms: ‘In future you will use the full departmental name, Planning and Environment Department, when advertising special events because what the Environmental Services Unit does is the only good news the department gets.’

The fact that the chief officer was so miffed suggests that there was a little more than a hairline fracture between the two sections.

The Environment Division’s responsibilities are enormous and far-reaching. At one time each of its sections was listed in the telephone directory. Now – and I assume this comes under the banner ‘cost cutting’ – there is a single telephone number. That’s fine for those who know the workings of the division, but not so informative to the man in the street.

Allow me to spell out the Environment Division’s responsibilities. They include: countryside management, the countryside renewal scheme, ecological sciences, environmental protection, environmental policy, farming and horticulture, fisheries and marine resources, the Jersey Biodiversity Partnership, the Jersey Ecology Fund, the Jersey Environment Forum, the Jersey Meteorological Department, land controls and agricultural development, marine resources and the Fisheries Advisory Panel, policies management and the States Veterinary Service.

I should point out that Environmental Protection alone have responsibility for pollution control and regulation, pollution prevention, water resource management, monitoring the aquatic environment, drinking water regulation, waste regulation, pesticide regulation, plant health control and produce (export) control.

All the Island’s environmental laws have been developed within the division and when looking at such a list of responsibilities the question must surely be asked: ‘Why is there no Ministry for the Environment?’

Incorporating planning and building has never made sense to me. I could accept it as a division of Transport and Technical Services, or simply as a Ministry for Planning and Building Services, but whatever is said publicly, there will always be friction between the two – and if not, why not?

The Old Coach House,

La Ruelle,

St Lawrence.

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