THE prospect that all asbestos removal, construction on contaminated land and clinical-waste disposal could grind to a halt tomorrow is the result of poor government planning over decades, an environmental campaign group has said.
SOS Jersey – which has been monitoring contamination levels around Jersey’s coastline for more than 25 years – argues that the current deadlock between the government and Planning Committee over the creation of new headlands of hazardous waste at La Collette is self-inflicted and demonstrates the need for an independent environmental regulator.
SOS Jersey co-ordinator Dave Cabeldu said that the government was facing a ‘perfect storm’ completely of its own making – caused by a combination of poor planning, a ‘nothing-to-see attitude’, a lack of understanding by politicians and an absence of proper oversight.
The government has said that if the committee’s decision to refuse planning permission is ratified tomorrow at its monthly meeting, the Infrastructure Department will be forced to close its hazardous waste dump, increasing the risk of illegal fly-tipping.
But Planning Committee chair Constable Philip Le Sueur said that it felt as though the government was holding a gun to the committee’s head.
The ‘perfect storm’ described by Mr Cabeldu includes what he describes as disjointed plans at the Waterfront, a new sewage treatment works which is not fit for purpose and the fact that hazardous waste has continued to be dumped on reclaimed land without planning permission.
The latter has forced Infrastructure Minister Tom Binet to lodge a proposition calling on States Members to endorse an application that was rejected by the Planning Committee last month.
Deputy Binet’s department wants to increase the size of headlands of hazardous waste at La Collette and construct new mounds of inert-waste soil.
Although the Planning Committee refused an application at its March meeting, the group of politicians has to formally confirm its decision tomorrow.
The government says that if the committee does that, the La Collette waste management site will have to shut its gates to hazardous material, including clinical waste, asbestos, contaminated soil and incinerator ash.
Mr Le Sueur said: ‘We maintain that it was wrong for the Planning Committee to be asked to rubber-stamp 20 years of successive governments kicking the can down the road.’
Ministers and officials met the committee yesterday afternoon in an attempt to find an agreement. Concerns have also been raised that Deputy Binet’s decision to take the issue to the States Assembly is an attempt to bypass the planning law.
Mr Cabeldu, however, said that the issue – which had been known about for years – would not have arisen if there was an independent body regulating the environment.
The responsibility currently rests within government.
‘The government regularly hands over planning decisions to an independent inspector but we don’t have the same system for the environment. It is just bizarre,’ he said.
‘I have no doubt that an independent body would have forced the government to act sooner and decisively.
‘Instead, we get a government tying itself in knots and making bad decisions, such as deciding to dig up contaminated material at the Waterfront to move it a few hundred metres to La Collette. It would be a lot better and cheaper to leave it where it is.’
SOS Jersey has today published a report which raises this and other concerns.
For instance, the group says that official samples collected at the discharge pipe from the Bellozanne sewage treatment works over 15 years show that nitrogen levels have been consistently above the permitted limit.
This is the reason that St Aubin’s Bay has been covered in sea lettuce each summer for several years, it argues.
The group also maintains that its research confirms that poisonous metals, including lead, cadmium and arsenic, have leached from the town reclamation sites and entered the food chain.
Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf said that he did not think the case for having an independent environmental regulator had been made.
He added: ‘I note that most of the SOS Jersey report concerns historic matters that have been well raked over on previous occasions. The relevant question is whether current environmental regulation is delivering strong protection for the environment.
‘It is worth noting that since 2022 we have had a new director of regulation in a reorganised Regulation Directorate, and a new minister.
‘My guiding principle is that regulation should be as independent from government as possible, and I and colleagues take considerable care to ensure that conflicts of interest are avoided.
‘In my view, current environmental regulation is strong, and the outcomes delivered are good.
‘That said, there is always room for improvement, and I remain open to discuss the best organisational way to deliver environmental regulation in the future.’