Wednesday 13 October 2021
Since my last opportunity to update the Assembly, the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure has been focused on many different issues within our broad mandate.
The most recent quarterly figures on house prices show a marginal drop of 0.8% compared with the previous quarter, suggesting perhaps some plateauing off in the local market, but prices are still nearly 10% higher than the same point last year. Open market transactions, meanwhile, look set to break activity level records not seen since 2006. A look at the wider picture, including waiting lists for social rental, partial ownership and keyworker housing, confirms that demand is still significantly outstripping supply. Members can be assured of the cross-committee focus on these issues through the Housing Action Group.
News in recent weeks has also brought us the price shock in the global gas market which will affect Guernsey customers reliant on gas for heating their homes particularly as the months get colder. Again, there's been an effective cross-committee response, and E&I's particular focus has been on the continuity and security of supply. The situation underscores the importance of a well-managed transition to decarbonisation as set out in our Energy Policy.
Turning now to our road infrastructure, a 'Highway Condition' Survey has taken place to assess the island's 260 miles of public highway. This will help identify and prioritise the roads that will require resurfacing works in future and the funding required to maintain them in an acceptable condition.
While Traffic & Highway Services' contractors carry out improvements across the network every week, a complete survey, which takes place roughly every 4 years, provides a detailed assessment of the whole Island and is a vital part of ensuring a robust and business-like approach to road maintenance. The funding requested is than matched to a proven need, which means we make better use of our resources and ensure public money is spent in the most efficient manner.
Speaking of roads, the Committee is delighted that following a successful trial throughout the summer months, changes will be made to enable al-fresco dining along The Quay on a permanent basis. This both improves the public realm and supports local businesses. While there are no immediate plans to introduce new al fresco areas, we are open to suggestions and are happy to look into similar opportunities to improve the public realm and support the economy.
Moving now to what uses the roads, the Committee has been working with Procurement to ensure that the management of the States fleet, which comprises hundreds of vehicles, aligns with and supports as far as possible our policies on energy efficiency and emissions. There are some really exciting possibilities to maximise efficiencies in a number of different ways, including perhaps the potential, longer term, for shared use in the community.
Part of the States fleet over which E&I has direct responsibility is our buses, and we are really pleased that finally there are fully electric vehicles available on the market that meet our very Guernsey-specific requirements in relation to width, range and capacity. We are therefore hopeful that Phase 3 of the bus replacement programme, which we're working on with Procurement at the moment, could result in the island's first set of electric buses.
Finally, on this roads-related theme, I'm pleased to report that Environment & Infrastructure had a productive meeting with the Committee for Home Affairs, the outcome of which is that we are working together to explore more efficient and effective ways of enforcing minor traffic offences. Between the two Committees, we will keep the Assembly updated on that work.
Now to our coastal structures. For Fermain, an options appraisal has now been completed which outlines all the viable solutions for dealing with the unstable cliff - which is the main issue - and the damaged military wall. All the options will require work on the landside of the wall. We will be looking to tender for the required works once the committee has considered the options and identified a preferred way forward, subject of course to the funding being agreed by P&R.
A little further up the east coast, geotechnical engineers have completed a thorough assessment of the Cow's Horn. This work includes mapping where the rock is, and more importantly isn't, which will inform the design for a lasting solution for the area. I cannot overstate that it is not a question of simply rebuilding the steps. The ground has moved, making it much more complex and challenging. It is important that the whole area is secured to avoid a repeat of the recent collapse. Allowing for the design and then tender process, and the release of funding, these works should begin next year.
Nearby, maintenance work is expected to commence on the Ladies and Children's pools at the end of the month. The intention is to keep one pool open whilst the other is worked on and to ensure all polar bears can swim at Christmas. The works will be completed by early next year.
Continuing northwards, the Committee considered earlier in the year a range of options in relation to the anti-tank wall at L'Ancresse. We then met with P&R back in July, where it was agreed we would consult with the remaining requerants in the Assembly. That meeting took place shortly afterwards, the result of which was that officers were tasked with exploring further options. Officers then engaged with lead requerant Deputy Brouard in August, resulting in more options being suggested and investigated. I'm pleased, if slightly exhausted, to report that the Committee will review all these options at our next meeting in order to identify a preferred way forward, and from there the matter will, in all likelihood, return to the States.
For fear of being thought of as the Committee for Infrastructure & Infrastructure, I will use the last third of my statement to provide an update on some of our environmental policy responsibilities as well.
COP26 will take place in Glasgow within the next few weeks. We've been engaging with the UK and other Crown Dependency governments and are now finalising the arrangements for our attendance as part of the UK Delegation. We've also been working on the possible extension of the Paris Agreement to Guernsey in our own right, one of the priorities agreed through the Government Work Plan. In addition, we've been invited to contribute to a small islands virtual conference ahead of COP26, which will be a good opportunity to highlight and define our support for the broader objectives of the main conference.
Similarly, we're looking at membership of GLIPSA, the Global Island Partnership, which is a support network of jurisdictions and organisations that focus on island-specific sustainability issues and solutions.
On-island transport is one of our most significant contributors to Guernsey's carbon footprint so I'm pleased to report that preparations are underway to look at how we can better reduce transport-related carbon emissions, as per our climate change policy, and I'm also glad to say that work has started on the Green and Blue Economy Supporting Plans, as prioritised through the GWP.
The Committee has also been progressing the Strategy for Nature, converting it into cost-effective plans and action on the ground.
The news headlines from earlier this week citing the UK as one of the world's most nature-depleted countries with only about half its biodiversity left, placing it in the bottom 10% globally and last among the G7 group of nations, shows there is no time for complacency.
We are on target to complete by the end of the year the pre-work and ecological data audits required for a much-needed priority species and habitats list for Guernsey, which will inform how we can protect, enhance, and manage risk to, our natural environment. Domestic legislation will be key to this, and there is considerable work required to put in place a wildlife protection law locally.
We have continued to step up our response to Invasive Non-Native Species, or INNS, which pose risk not only to biodiversity but also to human health and the economy. Building on the success of our Asian Hornet team, a focus for 2021 has been the development of an INNS Action Plan which places an emphasis on prevention, early detection and rapid response, and implementing this plan is a priority for 2022.
Another workstream arising from the GWP is the setting up of a Nature Commission to increase the resources available to support nature investment, bringing together public, private and voluntary organisations with a common purpose. Once up and running the Nature Commission would facilitate the collection of much needed data, provide communication and education, and be a hub of ecological expertise.
Finally, I promised last time to keep members updated on the reduction of pesticides. I'm pleased to report that our work with the Pollinator Project, alongside key stakeholders such as Guernsey Water, is progressing well. Related to this, academics at the University of Bristol are hoping to expand their research in Guernsey in a way that could result in a globally significant study.
Thank you, Sir, for this opportunity to update the Assembly on the Committee's work: I look forward to questions on these or any other aspects of our mandate.