A HOTEL director whose plans to demolish the building and replace it with flats were recently rejected has criticised the Planning Department and claimed the decision has resulted in the loss of ‘crucial’ family homes.
Roberto Lora hoped to build 53 one-, two, three- and four-bedroom apartments on the site currently occupied by the Hotel Savoy in Rouge Bouillon.
But the Planning Committee – a panel of politicians – rejected the application, mainly on the grounds of the effect it would have on the ‘health and wellbeing of the neighbours’.
Mr Lora said a UK-based planning officer had ‘crucially supported our eco-friendly family townhouse redevelopment project’.
But he said he was subsequently advised to withdraw the application by a local planning officer.
In a statement, he said: ‘Our experience raises concerns about the competence and effectiveness of the Planning Department.
‘We invested £250,000 and three years into developing a scheme to exit the hotel business and provide much-needed family homes in Jersey.
‘However, the Planning Department’s actions have needlessly hindered our efforts.
‘We were ignored and stonewalled when we sought clarification on their reasons for wanting a complete withdrawal.’
Mr Lora also described a ‘farcical scene’ at the Planning Committee meeting, during which he claims ‘the case officer misrepresented our scheme and used outdated slides that included a swimming pool, which was no longer part of our application’.
He added: ‘Despite our efforts to correct the information, the officer blamed our architect and misled the committee.
‘This farcical scene further damaged our chances of approval – something very hard to achieve at the best of times.’
The hotel director concluded: ‘We have been subjected to gross mistreatment and believe it is a result of incompetence and/or unilateral decision-making within the planning department.
‘Although our scheme had minor issues to address, the lack of co-operation and support from the Planning Department hindered our progress.
‘Sadly, this means Islanders have missed out on a valuable housing opportunity, and developers will likely stick to conventional, small, apartments that mainly end up in the buy-to-let market.’
Mr Lora’s criticism follows a damning independent report on the ‘underperforming’ Planning Department.
In his review, Jim McKinnon CBE – a former chief planner to the Scottish government – found that the processes for seeking planning permission were ‘seriously dysfunctional’ and required ‘radical improvements’.
The government declined to comment on Mr Lora’s specific planning application but confirmed that all planning officers in Jersey were required, by law, to make determinations in line with the Bridging Island Plan.