Wednesday 25 September 2019
Sir, it is my great pleasure to deliver this statement on behalf of the Development and Planning Authority today. This update covers the D&PA's activities over the last 12 months and the work ahead. This has already been an eventful year for the D&PA but there is still plenty to do before the end of this political term.
The Committee has had several changes in membership this year. Deputy Lester Queripel left and then returned. Alderney Representative Snowdon joined us and I replaced Deputy Gollop as President. Deputy Oliver has been blessed with two new members of her family and has returned to active duty on the D&PA, being elected as Vice-President on 13 September.
And we welcome our newest member, Deputy Paint. His experience will compliment that of the rest of us and will no doubt result in a wide variety of views aired and together good quality decisions being made. And, to use a recent analogy, whilst the Committee felt it was a shame we were not involved in the selection, now that the Assembly's choice has had a chance to dry we acknowledge Deputy Paint is a good match!
This time last year we were preparing for the debate on the Annual Monitoring Report 2017. A debate which sowed the seeds for change and provided the basis for the D&PA's Action Plan.
This Plan includes a variety of steps such as a review of the planning Law and liaison with a number of other Committees.
For example, we have asked the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure how we can help with the production of the Infrastructure Plan, on how we can assist with the evidence basis for the treatment of Ruettes Tranquilles and how we can ensure Traffic Impact Assessments are more joined up. Officers of both the D&PA and Economic Development have met to discuss the outcome of the review of the Red Tape Audit with regard to planning. I have met with the President of the States Assembly & Constitution Committee to discuss how the D&PA training programme, in particular on quasi-judicial decision making, can dovetail with the recommendations being made by SACC for the general training to be given to Deputies.
Each year, we have written to Committees as part of the annual monitoring for feedback on the policies of the IDP and this year was no different. We identify the policies upon which we seek their views as to whether they are working to achieve the outcomes that each Committee seek. We hope that this further liaison will not only assist with supporting the progress on various extant resolutions but also encourage a deeper understanding of the work of the D&PA and how every Committee's mandate feeds into the IDP. We hope this will help to show how Committees can, through their policy making, affect the policies of the IDP. Some changes of approach may be possible without the need for a Public Inquiry. The AMR 2018 report is due to come back to the Assembly for debate with amendable propositions hopefully early in the new year.
The Action Plan, of course, includes the widening of the 5 year review of the Island Development Plan (or IDP). The topic based research for the 5 year review has commenced and includes whether brownfield sites should be prioritised ahead of greenfield sites in certain areas, and if so how this might be achieved, and the extent and criteria for designation of Important Open Land. It is also looking at the Agriculture Priority Areas, affordable housing and IDP Policy GP11, assessing the effects of land-banking and considering changes to the current policies concerning visitor accommodation. The assessment of the research done and the evidence gathered will begin in June 2020 so that the initial draft amendments to the IDP can be brought to the D&PA for initial consideration by October 2020.
I wish to say at this point that the Committee has a completely open mind in respect of the existing IDP policies, which were approved by this Assembly in November 2016. The D&PA fully acknowledges that, just because the final version of the policies were put in place by a unanimous decision of this Assembly, and just because the D&PA are duty bound to apply them when making decisions, these policies can be challenged and may well be found wanting based on evidence. That changing circumstances and States' priorities mean that some policies need to alter to reflect what the States now wants.
As set out in the 2016 debate, the process to review the IDP is robust enough to allow for amendment or change if there is evidence to support the need to do that. Where changes are proposed, the D&PA, both during the rest of this term and no doubt in the next term, will try to find the best possible solutions, based on the evidence and having considered alternatives, taking account of the needs of the Island as a whole.
However, I would like to point out that, if the Assembly believes we need development such as building affordable homes for our residents, these homes need to be built somewhere. If we are to mitigate climate change through our land planning policies, we need to build in a sustainable way, making the best use of a limited resource - land. We need to build in areas that reduce the need to rely on fossil fuelled vehicles by those homes being built near local amenities. Although we are actively working to find and evaluate other approaches, the D&PA is bound to deliver the land-use requirements of the States and that is through the States' approved land use policies in the IDP. We will continue to apply those policies consistently and objectively until other policies are approved by this Assembly.
We have also taken the initiative to press forward with a major project for the preparation of Development Frameworks for the Regeneration Areas, including Leale's Yard. This acknowledges public disapproval that, whilst Leale's Yard remains undeveloped despite planning permission having previously been granted, some green fields not far away are being considered for housing development.
I am most grateful to colleagues on P&R for agreeing to support the D&PA with funding for not just Leale's Yard Development Framework but Development Frameworks for the three other Regeneration Areas, these being at Lower Pollet, South Esplanade/Mignot Plateau, and Mansell Street/Le Bordage in St Peter Port. Once in place, we hope these will enable new development proposals to be brought forward.
As part of the Action Plan, we will also be looking again at the policy for Development Frameworks itself, including assessing their usefulness, re-evaluating the current threshold criteria in respect of size, considering the merits of including land in different ownership, reviewing our communication of consultation and the time taken, and identifying the means and timeline for making improvements in the process.
But, of the utmost importance to us, is the rebuilding of the trust of the community and one way to do that is to improve our communication. We have already published Frequently Asked Questions concerning key aspects of the planning process. A Dashboard of common statistics such as the number of permissions and completions in certain areas will be published shortly. We also intend to publish our communications plan this week which sets out the breadth of what we are seeking to achieve and how this will be done.
One major part of the Communication Plan, and one I have been particularly keen to push for, are workshops. We will be holding the first, relating to Community Plans, on 1 October. The objective of this workshop, which will be attended by a range of invited stakeholders, is to educate, inspire and gain advocates for Community Planning to encourage and help facilitate the take-up of Community Plans on the Island.
Our second workshop, which will be open on a first come first served basis, will be held on 12 November. It will focus on public engagement through the Planning process in all its various forms to advise people on the 'best way to have your say'. This will cover the Planning Inquiry process for the IDP five-year review, through consultation on Development Frameworks, to the making of comments on individual planning applications with plenty of opportunity for questions. This workshop will run from 5:30 (for 5:45 start) until around 7:30pm on Tuesday 12 November and will be held at the Princess Elizabeth Centre for Performing Arts.
I wish also to take this opportunity to thank the Planning staff for the work they do - they have had a lot to do this past year but continue to show professionalism and adherence to both the States' Code of Conduct and that of the Royal Town Planning Institute. Unfortunately, a few parties in this process will inevitably feel aggrieved and I recommend that they use the relevant complaint or appeal procedures if they do.
As a result of vacancies and an increased workload, the percentage of decisions made within 8 weeks had slipped from 71% in the year 2017/2018 to 54% in 2018/2019 - this is against a target of 80%. The team has been working hard this summer and, by putting in place temporary measures such as using messages and call back and creating a team to deal specifically with more minor applications, the position is currently looking much better with most householder applications dealt with in 8 weeks.
In conclusion, Sir I wish to explain why I have not reeled off a list of what we have achieved as a Committee over the course of the last year. Of course, much has been achieved across the various areas of work which fall within the D&PA's mandate, such as commissioning the review of the Areas of Biodiversity Importance which reports at the end of the year, or our contribution to the Seafront Enhancement Area working group or facilitating commencement of the multi-million pound Admiral Park development, to name just a few. However, I and my Committee agreed we would focus more on what we have done and are doing to respond to the public's concerns. This was especially important as many did not get to hear closing remarks during the debate on the Requete and the assurances made then. I hope, Sir that I have shown that the public's voice has been heard by the Development & Planning Authority and that we are responding to that voice in the most proactive way possible open to us.