Planning review ordered into long-running dispute

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The Judicial Greffe has been asked by Environment Minister John Young to appoint an independent inspector to look into the application by Tom and Rose Binet, former owners of the Jersey Royal Company, to develop a site in St Ouen.

Deputy Young’s decision came as ministers were criticised for not giving ‘full consideration’ to criticisms levelled at them by a panel set up to report on complaints from Islanders against government departments.

Geoffrey Crill, chairman of the States Complaints Board, said he had grown frustrated that a series of reports the board had made were largely ignored by the minister at the centre of each case, and that backbenchers were failing to hold ministers to account.

Mr Binet and his sister had complained about how the Planning Department dealt with their application to develop the site at West Point Farm in La Route de Vinchelez.

The complaint was upheld by the board, but Deputy Young initially refuted many of the board’s findings, leading to a ‘response to the response’ which accused the minister and his officers of failing to appreciate the requirements of the Island Plan and of producing a report ‘marred by anecdotal gossip and unsupported conjecture’. The SCB added that comments regarding traffic and environmental impact as ‘shoddy and slapdash.’

Deputy Young said he was taking action after reading the follow-up report.

‘It is important for the public to remain confident in the planning system and that the difference of opinion is resolved, and all doubt removed,’ he said. ‘I will request that the planning inspector’s report is produced within the next three months.’

Speaking to the JEP prior to the minister’s announcement of the review, Mr Crill said the case was one of several where ministers and departments had failed to acknowledge the board’s findings.

‘There is a pattern that ministers look for simple things that they can put their hands up to, but then when it comes to the substantive element I feel a frustration that we often don’t get full consideration.

‘The problem I see is that the people who are looking at our findings are the same people who dealt with the original application, who prepare the case for the minister and draft his response – it would be unnatural if people in such a position weren’t to take a defensive stance.’

‘I’m surprised that we don’t see individual States Members take up the issues that we have highlighted and hold ministers to account – if ministers aren’t held to account they can just weather the storm.’

In 2016, the SCB described the treatment of eye surgeon Amar Alwitry, who had a job offer withdrawn before he had taken up the appointment, as ‘appallingly shabby’. After a rebuttal from the States Employment Board, the SCB criticised the ‘deeply unsatisfactory response’ and described the case as ‘one of the worst examples of a public authority disregarding fundamental principles of fairness and contract law that this Board has seen’.

In August 2018, Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis rejected findings by the board about the treatment of two Islanders who were forced to pay £50,000 in fees and compensation after selling their coastal properties. Deputy Lewis rejected the calls for compensation to be offered, and a petition was recently launched (JEP 9 January) seeking compensation for the homeowners.

And the board also found in favour of St Mary resident Ivor Barette, who was fined £50,000 by the Planning Department for removing historic windows and flooring in his home. Mr Barette’s complaint was upheld and the board said he had been treated in an ‘oppressive and improperly discriminatory way.’ In October 2018, Deputy Young admitted that the department needed to operate in a more customer-friendly way and pledged to ensure that lessons were learned.

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