Wednesday 26 April 2023
Thank you, Sir,
The new 15-minute limit on general update statements is a little more generous than we're used to, so before I get on to policy priorities, I'll touch on the day-to-day operational aspects of the Committee's mandate.
In an average week, we're delivering the best part of a hundred thousand pounds' worth of infrastructure improvements. That includes scheduled road resurfacing, reactive road repairs, planned coastal defence maintenance such as repointing works, and maintenance on the Alderney Breakwater.
Our operational responsibilities include Saumarez Park, Candie Gardens, our beaches, bathing pools, cliff paths and Ramsar sites among others, and we also have responsibility for the bus service, street cleansing, bin emptying, cleaning our surface water drainage systems and emptying our gullies, and we oversee environmental health, plant health, animal health and welfare, the slaughterhouse, and the incinerator - more on which later.
Housing is one of the most serious challenges gripping the island, which is why it is identified as a top priority in the Government Work Plan - something that we hope will be reaffirmed in the upcoming GWP reset. In the next few weeks, the Committee will be publishing a strategic housing action and delivery plan which draws on evidence, analysis and recommendations from Arc4. They recently carried out a review and concluded that our housing market is in systemic market failure and that system-wide solutions are needed. Their comprehensive report confirms that there is no quick fix and warns against pursuing single solutions focused on specific niches, urging us instead to adopt a consolidated plan that recognises the interdependencies within the housing market. In other words, we need to focus on fixing the ladder as a whole rather than putting all our efforts into individual rungs.
Our plan will focus on addressing the problems of supply, affordability, accessibility, suitability, quality and choice, and will be published in time to feed into the conversations around the GWP reset which will be debated in July.
Speaking of interdependencies, a critical factor in delivering this much-needed new housing is transport infrastructure. In the debate on the Population and Immigration Review last year, the States made the decision to support the economy by adopting a strategic population objective of inward migration to the tune of 300 people a year. During that debate, this Committee explained the significant infrastructure implications of that level of population growth, including on our road network.
To be clear, the consequence of the States' decision to grow our population is to further increase our need for housing - and it's worth remembering that even without this additional factor we already have a significant undersupply of homes. Wherever in the island that new housing goes, it is going to exacerbate the pressures on our transport infrastructure - and that infrastructure, like the transport system more generally, is already struggling (and in too many areas failing) to adequately meet the community's needs, even now.
These problems are by no means exclusive to the north of the island, as our road network is constrained just about everywhere, but working with the GHA we have been developing a mobility plan for the area that includes Parc Le Lacheur, the Data Park and Fontaine Vinery, as that is the area within which most of the significant new housing developments are likely to come forward in the next few years.
Transport infrastructure is about connectivity, so the mobility plan is a network approach that focuses on improving choice, giving more people more options for more of their journeys. We know from long experience in Guernsey (as we saw, for example, with the Baubigny one-way network) that any change to the road infrastructure - no matter how popular it is once it is in place - meets with huge resistance when it is first proposed, so we are expecting nothing less.
If we wanted an easy political life, we wouldn't bother. The States has put its economic eggs in the bigger population basket, meaning new housing must be developed, and we know that, no matter how heartfelt, community concern over the traffic impact is unlikely to outweigh that strategic population objective. The Planning process doesn't require my committee to mitigate the impacts, so we could just sit back and shrug apologetically, saying, "Sorry you don't like the additional traffic and all the associated issues, but the States decided we need to bring in more people which means we need more homes, which means more traffic in your area, so I'm afraid this is simply the price you have to pay to support the economy."
That would be the easier thing to do, but it would not be the right thing to do. More housing is a strategic imperative, and as the committee with responsibility for the island's transport infrastructure, it is incumbent on us to do everything we can to improve choice, safety, convenience and affordability for current and future residents - starting in the north of the island, which has the highest concentration of housing allocation sites. Having made the decision to grow the population, I hope this Assembly takes just as seriously our collective responsibility to deliver both the housing required and the transport infrastructure improvements needed to support it.
On the subject of transport, there continues to be an upward trend in the number of passengers using the bus service. In March, there were 142,808 passengers - the highest number ever recorded for the month, and hopefully an indication that bus travel has resumed the positive upward trend we saw in the years before Covid. To support the competitors, spectators and islanders alike, the Committee has decided to provide free daytime bus travel for the period of the Island Games in July. Real-time bus tracking is once again up and running, journey planning in Google Maps now includes our bus routes and timetables, and CT Plus are in the final stages of developing an improved app and journey planner.
The Committee's work to improve the taxi and private hire provision in the Island continues to progress well, and the effects of the changes we have made are starting to make a material difference. Since we made it easier to obtain a public service vehicle taxi permit, 90 have been issued, with 10 applications still pending. Eight accessible taxis are now in operation providing a much-needed service to the community. We are working closely with the industry to support the development of a system where all taxi operators will be bookable by app, web and phone.
We're pleased to be supporting the Bailiwick's first School Street initiative around St. Martin's Primary School - the initial trial of which was very positively received by the school community and its neighbours. The Year 5 and 6 students most actively involved in the Rights Respecting School programme deserve huge credit for coming to us with the proposal and engaging so effectively with students, parents, residents and businesses in the local area.
Another of the Committee's successes in terms of community partnerships is in the establishment of the Nature Commission. The board has now been appointed and met for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I'm very pleased to announce that the Chair of the Nature Commission is Martin Belcher, and its patron is in fact sitting in this very chamber a few feet away from me: His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor.
The Commission has leveraged match funding from the third sector for the initial three years, and one of its key aims is to unlock and facilitate further private investment in the island's biodiversity from individuals and through corporate ESG contributions, which will maximise value for taxpayers' money and benefit Guernsey's natural environment. Their work will help deliver the goals of the Strategy for Nature and it will support the third sector through training and funding to build on the fantastic work they do.
An example of what can be achieved through this type of collaborative working can be seen in Bluebell Wood. ACLMS has worked with interested parties such as the Guernsey Conservation Volunteers, La Societe and others to trial different approaches to help turn the tide against the invasive Stinking Onion. It is an incredibly sensitive site and success can't be achieved overnight, but the early signs are very encouraging. We ask everyone visiting the wood to play their part by sticking to the paths all year round to avoid trampling the bluebells.
We have recently launched our fifth annual 'Spring Queening' project as part of our Asian Hornet Strategy with the help of 250 volunteers across the Island. The first Queen hornet of the season was identified and captured on Sunday. The evidence to date suggests our strategy is successful, and with numbers of this species increasing across Northern France, Jersey and the UK, we are incredibly grateful for the ongoing support of the public for ensuring that it is.
Invasive non-native species such as the Asian hornet don't just cause environmental problems but sometimes significant social risks and economic costs as well. Therefore, as part of the Government Work Plan, we are working on a Marine Biosecurity Plan which will set out the risks to our Blue Economy from marine invasive, non-native species and make recommendations to mitigate those risks. We hope that the States will support this work going forward when debated in July.
Of increasing focus here and elsewhere is the relationship between nature and farming. If we want to be more self-sufficient in terms of our food production and for the industry to be more resilient and sustainable over the long term, then farming and nature must work hand in hand. Farmers, after all, look after around 20% of the island's terrestrial land area.
These rural landscapes aren't just important for their aesthetic value, but because we need them to be multifunctional - producing healthy food, protecting wildlife, providing clean water, mitigating and providing resilience to climate change, giving protection from hazards like localised flooding, and reflecting our culture and heritage, specifically the Guernsey cow.
Members will I'm sure be aware of the emergency funding provided by the Policy & Resources Committee in response to our request to help our dairy farmers cope with the immediate financial challenges the sector was facing: very significant increases in feed and fertiliser costs arising from the conflict in Ukraine, on top the cost impacts of Brexit and inflation.
As part of those conversations, E&I committed to carry out a review of Guernsey's dairy industry, looking particularly at its long-term economic and environmental sustainability. The committee will be discussing the findings of that report with P&R in the coming weeks, and we will update members as promptly as possible once we have done so.
Far less bucolic but nonetheless essential to the farming industry and others is an animal carcass incinerator. Our current incinerator has passed the end of its service life and is no longer economically viable to maintain. Replacing it has become a critical priority for the island, as the strict controls introduced in response to the BSE crisis very much limit our options. Just to prove wrong those who claim we don't do joined up government, we are replacing both this and the similarly ageing hospital incinerator with one modern, much more efficient multi-purpose bit of kit. This animal and clinical waste incinerator project, run jointly by E&I and HSC, falls into the Distinctly Unglamorous But Very Important category, and I'm happy to report that it is progressing well.
2022 was another busy year of coastal defence works, which include both our natural and manmade coastal infrastructure. Coastal defence work that protects key infrastructure is obviously given the highest priority. This approach is even more important in the current fiscal climate as we have to make ever-harder decisions on what projects to prioritise over others.
The stabilisation of the rock face to restore access to Clarence Battery from La Vallette is now continuing, having been previously hampered by lack of responses to two successive tenders. An invitation to tender for the necessary geotechnical survey work has been issued and interest already received, so we hope that the design work will be complete in the summer, with construction to follow planning approval (all being well) later this year.
While we are open to reassessing options in light of budget constraints for the Napoleonic wall at Fermain, we are pressing ahead with the rerouting of the cliff path - an essential part of the project because, like the Cow's Horn, the biggest structural problem is the cliff itself, and we are keen to maintain access to that fantastic natural asset that is our stunning coastline stretching along our east and south coasts from Town to the Imperial.
Rock armouring at L'Ancresse East is progressing ahead of schedule, and we anticipate that the work should be complete in the next week or so, well in time for peak beach season.
The repointing of the seaward side of the Havelet wall is virtually complete, as is the work between Catioroc and Perelle. Repointing at a few other sections of the west coast have gone out to tender to take place later this year, while smaller projects (for example remedial repairs to slipways) are ongoing.
Most people think of sea walls when coastal defences are mentioned, but in fact our programme of work includes soft and natural defences as well. Two relatively recent examples include improvements to the shingle bank at Les Fontenelles, and the dune restoration at Grandes Rocques - both of which have proved effective.
A new contractor was recently appointed to undertake the 2023 maintenance work on the Alderney breakwater, and that work should begin shortly.
From the northern isle to a northern quarry, work to determine the future use of Les Vardes is moving ahead to enable the States to agree the long-term strategic approach for future inert waste disposal and water storage requirements.
Guernsey Water has continued their work on Phase 2 of the local water resource and drought management plan, which will provide options to manage the risks of a supply-demand deficit during drought from now until 2040, and beyond, as identified in Phase 1. This includes options to use Les Vardes as a water storage facility, to use a desalination plant, and to rationalise the existing raw water network.
The future inert waste facility will also be determined by this workstream, with the scope for possible solutions now finalised following discussions with Guernsey Water and Guernsey Waste. Valuable work has been commissioned for the environmental and technical assessments which are critical in determining the feasibility and cost implications.
The policy letter will use this evidence, once completed, to inform the proposals for the long-term strategic approach for future inert waste disposal and water storage on-island. We expect to bring this to the Assembly in the final quarter of this year.
Well before then, however, we will be publishing our much-anticipated electricity strategy, which we are very keen to debate ahead of the summer recess. Agreeing this strategy is vital - not just to inform the States' expenditure but also to inform (among others') Guernsey Electricity's investment decisions: our ageing infrastructure needs to be replaced and new supply contracts will need to be negotiated.
A huge amount of work has gone into its development - from the Committee, Steering Group, officers, Siemens and PwC, the Energy Partnership and other key stakeholders. The feedback that we've had through this technical consultation to date has been very high quality, and has led to further, more detailed modelling being carried out. That has made the process longer, but it has also made our evidence base stronger, which will better inform the States' decisions on demand, supply and market structure - decisions that will shape Guernsey's future for generations to come.
I look forward to answering any questions on the mandate of the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure.