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Statement by the President of the Committee for the Environment and Infrastructure

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Wednesday 27 November 2019

General Update

Sir,

At times it has seemed like Brexit has been all consuming. Few States' assemblies have faced a test of this magnitude. It has restricted many of us from progressing priorities at the speed we would have liked, and that is frustrating to us all.

A lot of the policy my Committee is shaping will allow Guernsey to thrive in the future by protecting and enhancing our natural and physical environment and infrastructure. Much of our work is not about putting a spade in the ground now. It is the less visible work of developing policies to ensure we have the housing people will need in the future; the infrastructure to support those homes; the energy to power and heat those homes; and all this while protecting our unique environment.

To deliver such major strategies we need to understand the concerns of States members, the public, and business, and reflect the ambitions of this community.

We should harness the considerable expertise on Island, while also reaching out to other jurisdictions through cooperation on the international stage. Guernsey is a unique island but many of the challenges it will face over the coming years will not be unique.

Like others we need to reduce our waste, plant trees, manage rising sea levels, replenish depleted soil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollutants, use cleaner, sustainable energy, and protect threatened species and habitats.

It is often laborious work, but my Committee has focussed upon its task and that hard work is starting to come to fruition. With the support of this Assembly in the coming months we can meet the challenges Guernsey faces.

We face serious threats in these unparalleled times. Like Brexit, we cannot say exactly when they will impact upon us or quantify the impact they will have. What we do know is that there is a duty upon us all to act to tackle issues like climate change.

Climate change is happening right now. The evidence is clear, it's real, as are the consequences.

In recognition of this the States agreed in June to follow a policy-based approach introducing, as part of the P&R plan, the priority policy area, "Mitigate climate Change".

The Committee will meet its obligation to report back to the States with a Climate Change Policy and "Climate Change Action Plan" by next May.

Climate change touches many areas across the States, from waste and energy, to off-island travel, imported goods, and even overseas aid.

We are not the only jurisdiction looking to produce a climate change policy in a short time. Jersey and the Isle of Man, two other small islands, both called a climate emergency earlier this year and are working to a tighter timescale than we are for delivery.

To capitalise on the work already being done in our fellow Crown Dependencies, the Committee took the opportunity to collaborate with both islands. We will make our own decisions, but it makes sense to share information and ideas, and avoid duplication of effort and cost.

To continue this fast paced work, in partnership with others, the Committee will attend a summit meeting with Jersey and the Isle of Man in December to discuss climate change policies across the three jurisdictions.

Work on the energy policy has been a high priority for the Committee. It has taken time to engage meaningfully with industry and other key stakeholders. This added time to the process, but feedback has been invaluable in shaping the policy. These responses were predominantly supportive and have given guidance on areas for further reflection.

To keep Islanders informed, a statement of intent was released which summarised the direction of travel for the energy policy. States Members were also given the findings of the supporting work, giving further detail on the issues being addressed in the energy policy. At the recent IoD debate, the Committee was pleased to see the real appetite for the introduction of a new, forward-thinking energy policy which will be delivered early next year.

Both the energy policy and the climate change policy have carbon emissions reduction as an important theme, and these two policies will complement each other.

The third interdependent workstream is the hydrocarbons supply programme. The interrelated nature of these vital strategies means they must progress in unison and the extensive work completed on Hydrocarbons has now become a key component of the Energy Policy.

The energy policy research has re-affirmed the need for fuel deliveries to the Island for the foreseeable future, albeit in reducing quantities.

The Committee is receiving further valuable feedback from industry on the outcome of this process and is looking to bring back recommendations within the energy policy rather than returning later with separate proposals.

Coastal defence remains a priority and this year's repointing projects are taking place at Croix Martin and the Red Lion area. More projects will be delivered next year and a longer term capital plan for the management of the sea walls is being developed.

It has become clear that Fermain wall is a large and complicated project that requires detailed planning. Access to the beach is tricky for heavy plant and materials given the steep, narrow, and winding nature of the access road.

As I have explained to the assembly previously, the Committee has taken a pragmatic view of reinstating the wall in line with the section built in the 1990s, which is in advance of the existing structure. This is to reduce the loading placed on the wall by the cliff behind, which was a major factor in the wall's failure. Re-profiling the cliff is likely to be required which will add significant expense. Over the summer a tender was issued to review the design requirements and construction detail for the project as the specific expertise was not available within the States. That tender returned no responses, so following conversations with potential contractors the tender will be reissued shortly.

Implementation of the States' decision regarding the anti-tank wall at L'Ancresse East could not progress until the scope of the EIA was decided. In May, the Committee was pleased to receive confirmation of the Development and Planning Authority's requirements and officers since then have been working with local experts on that environmental impact assessment. We expect the Environmental Statement to be submitted in the summer of 2020.

In May I provided an update on the Integrated Transport Strategy and the delivery of safe, convenient, accessible, and affordable travel options for all the community, which enhance health and the environment, and minimise pollution.

I am pleased to report that the first periodic review of the Transport Strategy is being finalised. It evaluates progress towards the Strategy's core aims and will be published before the end of this year.

The development of new infrastructure to help people get around by foot, wheelchair, mobility scooter, bike and bus is an ongoing process. Registrations of electric and hybrid vehicles continue to increase at pace with over one hundred electric vehicles registered so far this year.

Convenient and reliable public transport is key to the Strategy: buses are not just an efficient means of transport, but they generate economic and social benefits as well, while mitigating the negative environmental impacts of private motor vehicle use.

Encouragingly, 2019 shows more improvement for the scheduled bus service for the first 9 months with an additional 93,000 journeys already recorded up to the end of September - an increase of 6.5%. Total passenger numbers will be almost 2 million this year, meaning that annual passenger journeys will have increased by almost six hundred thousand, or 42%, since 2013.

Officers continue to work to maximise opportunities to meet peak demands. Changes introduced for visitors wanting to tour the Island have been a success, easing pressure on the bus service and raising new income of an additional £80,000 so far this year.

Several further improvements were made to the scheduled bus service this year, including additional early evening services in summer for those making the most of the lighter evenings. Contactless technology has also been introduced making travel by bus even simpler.

A great deal more work is required to protect and enhance the Island's biodiversity. There are several key areas that need further investigation, data analysis, and development, including bird populations, sour fig, pesticides, and the tree & woodland strategy.

Action is needed as the latest habitat survey reported that Guernsey's richest habitats are disappearing because of the way the land has been managed.

For example, the invasive sour fig has doubled its area since 2010, while 90% of diverse grasslands have been lost since 1999.

Whilst a great amount of work is required, the Committee is making greater progress by working in partnership with the community and sharing knowledge with other jurisdictions. We are grateful to our friends in Alderney who hosted an inter-Island meeting last month. At this, we signed the Blue Islands Environmental Charter, which aims to protect the environment of island communities.

The biodiversity strategy, working with the Biodiversity Partnership Group (made up of third sector stakeholders), has delivered and supported many initiatives already, including work by the Pollinator Project raising awareness of the importance of pollinating insects, a Ramsar management plan for Herm to support sustainable use of wetlands, and Guernsey's first BioBlitz in May of this year, a citizen's science initiative that gathered valuable data by engaging with schools and members of the public.

It is pleasing that, based on the number of nests destroyed, the Asian Hornet population has not increased this year. Nearby jurisdictions have seen exponential population growth of this invasive insect which can prey on native insects, particularly on bees. 

I would like to offer the Committee's thanks to the many members of the public who have helped the search for Asian hornets and in doing so have helped to protect the balance of our native ecosystems.

With such a wide mandate this Committee is progressing many workstreams. However, it is determined to deliver these in partnership with Islanders and make the most of local expertise. Sharing knowledge with other jurisdictions is also proving to be beneficial and with members of this Assembly adding their support it will allow us to deliver progress on these strategies and to meet the Island's challenges.

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