Sir Philip Bailhache had been invited to accompany Grouville Deputy Carolyn Labey to the meeting, which was called after she lodged a proposition to stop incursion charges and recompense some Islanders who had already paid money to Jersey Property Holdings. But he was barred from joining Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis, the Solicitor General and officers, who were due to discuss the disputed policy, leading Deputy Labey to walk out.
The minister has lodged amendments to Deputy Labey’s proposition as part of a fresh bid to charge landowners retrospectively for infringements.
Deputy Labey said she had not felt it appropriate to attend the meeting with her own private secretary because she was there as a parish Deputy and not as a member of the government. Instead, she asked Sir Philip, who is also a Grouville parishioner, to accompany her to note the legal position for her ahead of next week’s debate. She added that Sir Philip made it clear that he
would not have participated in the discussions.
‘When we arrived, the minister’s private secretary said that it wasn’t appropriate to bring a member of the public to a meeting of this kind so I refused to continue with the meeting. I had invited someone with me to make notes because if you are faced with a number of people and facts it is very difficult to take your own notes and, at the same time, be responsive yourself,’ she said.
Sir Philip declined to comment, though he has previously been strongly critical of the government, which he described previously as ‘extorting’ money from Islanders by presenting them with demands for financial settlement for encroachments at the point when they were trying to sell their homes.
As Assistant Chief Minister at the time, Sir Philip was responsible for negotiating on behalf of the government with the Crown to conclude the gift of the foreshore to the public of the Island. He said that the gift was intended to allow the Island to develop offshore renewable energy projects.
However, the acquisition of the foreshore resulted in a number of claims against Islanders seeking to sell property which, it was said, encroached on the public land. They subsequently protested to the States Complaints Board.
Deputy Lewis, in an amendment to Deputy Labey’s proposition, said her proposals were ‘not balanced and [contained] a lot of conjecture’. He rejects the argument that the policy of charging for retrospective encroachments was unfair.
‘Whether the encroachment took place by the current owner, or a previous one, is irrelevant, as it is the responsibility of the landholder to ensure they have title to the land they occupy,’ the report
accompanying the amendments states.
However, the minister does accept the principle of putting on hold any further ‘land transactions’ relating to strips of the foreshore until the States has had the opportunity to approve a revised policy. He has accepted a January 2021 deadline for such a debate.
In January this year Deputy Labey lodged a proposition calling for the suspension of the current foreshore policy. She relodged it in the summer, having withdrawn it during the Covid-19 crisis.
She called for the Infrastructure Minister to respond to the uncertainty surrounding the status of the foreshore by setting the date of the transfer in ownership of the land as the date from which a policy protecting the foreshore from future encroachment should be implemented.
‘I don’t like people encroaching on the foreshore. I wish there was a promenade from Gorey to St Helier, but that’s not what we’ve got, so it’s a question of dealing with the site as it is,’ Deputy Labey said.
‘We were gifted the land and to tap people on the shoulder, sometimes 40 years after an encroachment, to ask for payment now is shabby. It’s a shabby way to treat members of the public.
‘It is crucial that there is a date agreed, the date of the gift of the land, and from then on we should protect it for Islanders.’
However, the minister’s amendments expressly reject this. ‘[It] is, in my opinion, irrelevant and unworkable. Where a foreshore encroachment is claimed, that claim will have a basis. The third party can submit a counter-claim, and if the matter remains disputed, the two parties can follow established courses of action to seek a resolution,’ the minister said.