Waterfront: ‘Ban foreign investors’

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Senator Sam Mezéc has lodged a States proposition after the Jersey Development Company announced in the summer that a 12-year scheme to ‘transform’ the Waterfront would take place, with hopes to submit an outline planning application by the spring of next year.

And the Senator, who stepped down as Housing Minister last month to back a motion of no confidence in the Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, wants to make certain the development does not become dominated with buy-to-let homes.

JDC managing director Lee Henry has previously said the development could feature outdoor swimming pools, a national art gallery and a landscaped bridge over the Route de la Libération.

Senator Mezéc has regularly criticised the amount of properties in the Island which are bought as rental investments and said Jersey’s housing market needs to focus more on first-time buyer and social rent.

‘I hope that they would have learnt their lesson,’ he said, when asked if he feared the JDC would primarily fill the development with buy-to-let properties. ‘But I want to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

‘The Waterfront is publicly owned land and the JDC is a publicly owned development company, and so we should be using these assets for the public benefit, to address the desperate need there is for affordable housing for Islanders.

‘In the past there have been concerns that too many homes have been built to luxury specifications to maximise profits, rather than deliver on the need Islanders are facing. My proposition will make sure that the JDC cannot go ahead with any development where the primary benefit is not going to be for ordinary Islanders who want a home they can afford.’

If approved, his proposition would require Treasury Minister Susie Pinel – as shareholder representative – to instruct the JDC that no homes built on the Waterfront site will be sold on to foreign buy-to-let investors, and that at least 50% of homes built must be for allocation through the Affordable Housing Gateway exclusively for either first-time buyers or for social rental.

In August, property registry figures obtained by the JEP showed that of the 365 apartments located across the Castle Quay complex and Harbour Reach, 116 were owner-occupied, with the remainder being investment properties.

Senator Mezéc added that he was ‘surprised’ not to have been approached by the JDC while he was minister for his policy perspective on the type of homes ‘we ought to focus on delivering as a government’.

‘It is crucial that in any project which will fundamentally change the character of our town there is proper democratic input.’

However, Peter Seymour, of the Mortgage Shop, said: ‘Whatever the JDC will be building – based on the quality of the Horizon development – will likely be too expensive for first-time buyers due to the size of the deposit and mortgage required for purchase.

‘Surely if this is the case, then affordable housing should be constructed in the town centre and not on prime developments like the JDC sites so that they can produce a good return to then be reinvested into schemes specifically for social housing.’

In 2010, the average price of a three-bedroom home was £512,000 – but by last year it had risen to £636,000. In the same period, the price of a two-bedroom flat had risen from £308,000 to £405,000.

Meanwhile, average earnings have remained relatively flat over the last 19 years, increasing by just 0.7% from 2001 to 2020.

In October, Senator Mezéc and Treasury Minister Susie Pinel agreed a ‘rent freeze’ with government-owned social housing provider Andium Homes that will see a one-off deferral of next year’s rent increase for Islanders living in social housing owned by the company.

Andium Homes is the Island’s largest provider of affordable housing and is responsible for more than 4,500 properties – housing more than 10,000 people.

When the Waterfront project was first announced, Senator Mezéc ‘applauded’ the JDC for bringing forward a ‘bold vision’ for the area but said that if the majority of the homes were built for buy-to-let investors, it would be ‘wasting an opportunity’ to provide affordable housing for Islanders.

The JDC declined to comment on the proposition.

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