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

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Wednesday 25 November 2020

General Update

Madam,

While this may be one of the more challenging times in recent history, the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure is realistically optimistic about what might be achieved by working together with colleagues across the States, and indeed the community. Cross-committee and cross-Assembly working is not just something we've committed to, but something we're already doing: we've started as we mean to go on.

However, I say "realistically optimistic" because of the context in which we will be working for the next few years: Covid-19 and Brexit will continue to shape the work this government can and must do, and we know the balance between our public services and our public finances must be put on a more sustainable footing longer term.

We shouldn't misinterpret these fiscal pressures, though, as reason not to invest in infrastructure - quite the opposite, of course: this is the time we should be doing exactly that.

We are experiencing more frequent, intense weather patterns and feeling its effects - stronger storms, heavier rainfall, more frequent storm damage and flooding, hotter summers, and milder winters.

Climate change is, among other things, putting additional pressure on our infrastructure - our energy, housing, and drainage networks, for example, and most obviously of all on our coastal defences.

Although we invest seven figure sums in our many miles of coastal defences through our annual maintenance programme and repairs, historic issues of under investment that go back decades must now be properly addressed. We need to plan for the future and we won't always be able to rely on the current way of doing things or on patching up our existing infrastructure. Hard coastal defences are expensive - but beware the false economy of a half-baked compromise.

The wall at Fermain is one of many coastal areas that needs more than a little TLC. The work required is much greater and more complex than a standard wall repair thanks to its proximity to and relationship with the steep, soft cliff behind it. It looks as though the future-proofed solution involves re-profiling the cliff and rebuilding the wall in line with the repairs of the 1990s, when the wall immediately to the south of the slipway was reduced in height and brought forward.

At L'Ancresse, works on the most heavily undermined section of anti-tank wall have recently been carried out to reduce the risk of failure over the winter. We will follow this up shortly by placing rock armour in front. This fulfils the requirement of the Requête in the short term, but providing "the optimum chance of the wall remaining intact for the 10 year period" is going to involve a far greater scale of work - and therefore cost - than the Requête envisaged, so it is likely that the States will need to decide whether it wants to prioritise retaining that section of wall as a piece of Occupation history.

E&I has policy responsibility for our stone reserves, and with only a few years left in Les Vardes, the States will need to agree the best long-term option for the supply of aggregate. This work, which we are doing in partnership with the Committeefor Economic Development, the Policy & Resources Committee and the industry, has already started.

The Committee welcomes the keen political spotlight this term on housing, and is looking forward to working with the Committee for Employment & Social Security in particular, especially as housing has such a fundamental effect on the community's quality of life.

Our Energy and Climate Change Policies have a key role to play in the island's recovery. We need to create an environment which fosters a dynamic, innovative and competitive energy market, and support the transition to decarbonisation without risking security of supply or affordability for Islanders.

With limited time available this morning, I'll focus on just a couple of aspects: the blue and green economies.

The Chamber of Commerce highlighted that with Guernsey facing economic pressures it should be doing more to diversify and make the most of its marine resources.

That statement was made in 1839...

Here in the third decade of the 21st century, E&I will work with the Committee for Economic Development and others to find ways to maximise those opportunities around the marine economy and renewable energy, helping to deliver greater environmental sustainability and enhanced ecosystem services, hand in hand with strong economic outcomes. Fundamental to any work on the blue economy is a Marine Spatial Plan - a vital project facilitated through our Strategy for Nature.

On a brief sea-themed tangent, E&I is also leading on Guernsey's maritime strategy. As a jurisdiction with port, flag and coastal state responsibilities it is important - practically and reputationally - to ensure we comply with relevant international rules, regulations and conventions. We're expecting to be audited early next year by the United Nations' International Maritime Organization (the IMO) and I'm pleased to report that we are fully prepared. In the mock audit last year, the audit team were particularly impressed with our efforts and cited Guernsey's approach as an example of best practice to the 12 other flag states in the Red Ensign Group - that's the equivalent of a gold star from the head teacher, so I'd like to extend my thanks to the port authorities and to those in St. James' Chambers who have helped prepare us so well.

Back on land, the green economy is another promising area of opportunity for Guernsey. The global transition from the brown economy - which is based on linear consumption patterns and fossil fuels - to a cleaner, more circular, sustainable, green economy needs tens of trillions of dollars of capital investment, and mobilising that capital presents a very significant opportunity for Guernsey with our growing reputation as a green and sustainable finance centre. Our domestic policies need to walk the walk to support our green finance industry: the greatest risk to that business sector is reputational damage from perceptions of greenwashing.

As a report from the UK Treasury highlighted earlier this year, 50% of global GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature, and biodiversity loss is a significant threat to the worldwide economy. In fact, it's flagged by the World Economic Forum and others as one of the biggest risks to the global economy in the next decade.

There is enormous benefit in better understanding the value the environment gives to our own economy, not to mention our health and wellbeing. Our Strategy for Nature will give us both the tools and the data to develop a coherent and co-ordinated approach to the long-term sustainable management of our terrestrial natural environment. It will help us integrate this knowledge into local decision making, to maximise economic potential and to help mitigate threats to our economy from climate change and biodiversity loss, building a more resilient economy in the process.

We need to help Islandersand businesses benefit from the opportunities afforded by our natural assets and better recognise nature's value. Biodiversity considerations must be factored into our marine planning, land use and daily choices so that the ongoing loss and disconnectedness of natural habitats is halted and reversed.

Sustainability is a particularly important consideration when it comes to infrastructure: green infrastructure is an economic enabler and we can only benefit by taking a co-ordinated and future-orientated approach to ensure that investment is aligned with States' priorities and delivers the greatest possible value to the Island.

On-island mobility is another key economic and social enabler, so our transport infrastructure has a vital role to play in strengthening our economy and our community. We need to invest in infrastructure like charging points to support the phasing out of sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and we will also need to look at how our road infrastructure can facilitate greater choice and better mobility, supporting a stronger economy and community in the process.

Working with industry, preparations for the introduction of periodic vehicle inspections are underway. These safety checks are a necessary requirement arising from Brexit so that islanders can continue to drive Guernsey-registered vehicles in mainland Europe, and so that visitors from other countries have the assurance that the vehicles on our roads meet basic safety standards. They are significantly less onerous than the UK equivalent tests, though: whereas the MOT system requires vehicles to be checked annually once they are three years old, our system will require checks only once the vehicle is five years old, and only every three years thereafter.

Whether it is the Island's roads, utility networks, ports, or the provision of community healthcare, infrastructure is vital to this Island. It has considerable influence on community wellbeing and economic performance - as does our natural environment.

My committee has hit the ground running and is looking forward to working with colleagues and the community to face the challenges and embrace the many opportunities ahead. 

 

 

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