Wednesday 27 April 2022
This is quite an E&I-heavy States meeting, with our policy letters on L'Ancresse and Al Fresco Zones comprising half the ordinary business of the meeting, so in the hope that my voice lasts the distance I'll focus on the other work that we've also been progressing.
Since my last update, world events and global markets have exacerbated the squeeze on the cost of living and underscored the importance of the energy transition, while the IPCC's latest report has set out in the starkest terms why decisionmakers everywhere should support policies, infrastructure, technology and lifestyle choices that will secure a liveable future.
Our main energy-related focus is currently the development of the Electricity Strategy, through which the States will make the decisions necessary to achieve the Energy Policy's objectives: decarbonisation, security and resilience of supply, greater energy independence, consumer value and choice, equity and fairness and a vibrant economy. Our Electricity Strategy will look at different factors relating to demand, supply and the market and we're delighted that Deputy Le Tocq and Deputy Moakes have joined the steering group to provide valuable input from the perspectives of P&R, Economic Development and the STSB. We've held useful meetings too with other colleagues, members of the community and Jersey, and we are also drawing on relevant expertise from both the local energy sector and beyond to explore opportunities and test the viability of different scenarios.
The Committee has reviewed and revised its climate change work plan to accelerate three interdependent areas of policy: climate change mitigation and adaptation, electricity and renewables, and the blue and green economy.
A key part of this work is the development of a Pathway to Zero plan, which will look at what measures we as an island will need to implement to meet - and ideally beat - our net zero carbon emissions targets. It will consider how we can most effectively reduce emissions from our biggest sources - transport, energy and waste - using policies, fiscal levers, and other mechanisms as appropriate for our ambition and our size and scale. The Pathway to Zero plan, which we intend to be completed this year, will also inform what expertise will be most relevant for the independent advisory panel.
Constructive dialogue continues with the UK government on the extension of the Paris Agreement to Guernsey, following the agreement in principle at COP26 last November - a process we hope can be completed within the next couple of months.
Work on our Blue and Green Economy Support Plans is also taking shape. It's worth elaborating on what 'blue economy' and 'green economy' mean in the context of Guernsey and our Government Work Plan. Both relate to the use, preservation and regeneration of our natural environment - blue with respect to marine and green with respect to terrestrial.
Essentially, there is a range of different - sometimes competing or even conflicting - potential uses of our natural environment, so our Blue and Green Economy Support Plans will help us prioritise what uses are most beneficial where. It's about maximising the economic, social and ecological opportunities of our natural environment, avoiding spatial conflict and taking a sustainable approach with respect to our natural resources. Underpinning all of this is a good understanding of the value of our natural environment so that we can make the most sustainable and efficient use of it as an asset.
This is important from an economic perspective in several respects. First of all, it helps us deliver against existing or new commitments attached to trade agreements, making us 'trade ready'. It also helps to create a framework that facilitates private investment in the natural environment, and it also reduces the significant economic risk - on top of the ecological risk - of environmental damage, from invasive non-native species, for example.
As agreed in the GWP, we're prioritising work on the blue economy, although where it makes sense to do so we are bringing parts of the green economy work plan forward to exploit economies of scale. This work supports, enables and helps to link work taking place under several different strategies and workstreams: Climate Change, the Strategy for Nature, Electricity, Tourism and the Future of the Harbours.
Data collected will be used to update the Guernsey Marine Atlas and will inform the development of a Marine Spatial Plan, exploring new potential uses for our marine environment, such as renewable energy generation or seagrass beds for their habitat and carbon sequestration value, for example, and identifying the best places for them. This expediates and de-risks their planning and implementation, making opportunities for investment in them more attractive and viable.
Speaking of optimising investment in our natural environment, the Committee has also worked with the Guernsey Community Foundation to establish a Nature Commission, which will support a community partnership approach to the Strategy for Nature. Progressing well ahead of schedule, this is an opportunity to establish formal collaboration with the many volunteers and experts in our island to deliver the Strategy for Nature - and to ensure that government has the right role, but not the only role.
Investment in the island's infrastructure is of course an ongoing priority. On top of the Committee's standard average weekly expenditure of £75,000 proactively maintaining road and coastal infrastructure, various remedial projects are in progress.
At the Bathing Pools, work on the Ladies' Pool was completed on schedule in time for Easter, and work has now begun on the Children's Pool which should be ready ahead of the school summer holiday. The Gents' Pool is also having some repointing done, which - as is often the case with coastal masonry work - is a frustratingly prolonged process as it can only be progressed on certain tides.
The Cow's Horn, or Clarence Battery Steps, is another project that is progressing. Officers, States engineers, specialist geotechnical engineers and Vive La Vallette have each played a role in identifying the best viable option, and we are hopeful this iconic part of our coastal path network can be completed in time for the summer season.
The same aim applies to the Petit Port steps, which we would love to reopen in time for people to enjoy the beach over the summer, but there is a complex set of logistical, engineering and environmental considerations that need to be more fully examined before we can confirm whether or not that timeline is a realistic aspiration.
The Committee also agreed a way forward with respect to the Fermain cliff and Napoleonic wall last year, but the project hasn't progressed since then. This is quite simply down to lack of human resource - a familiar problem in E&I that is exemplified here, with one particular officer stretched across not only coastal infrastructure (which is a big enough job in its own right) but also key roles in our energy policy and electricity strategy plus aspects of the climate change policy work as well. We have been assured by the Senior Leadership Team that a resolution for this particular staffing situation is in hand, but the cumulative impacts of Brexit, Covid and internal HR policies have really taken their toll across the board, so this is an issue we feel we need to address more broadly.
Turning to housing now, and the planning application for more than 320 new units of accommodation at Leale's Yard has injected more optimism into the general housing market outlook.
Pressures on housing availability stem not just from a mismatch between supply and demand in terms of numbers of units, but more pertinently because of a mismatch between the types of accommodation needed and their availability.
We're pleased, therefore, to confirm that we'll be bringing a policy letter to the States in the next few months on a tool known as the States Strategic Housing Indicator, which we've developed in-house for the first time. This gives us not only more accurate insights as to different housing type requirements but also enables us to keep that information much more up to date to better inform planning policies. Previously this was a piece of work that was outsourced around every five years, and given how much can change over that period of time, this change will help us be more agile and responsive to housing need from now on. It will also help inform the work exploring potential market interventions and the population and immigration policy review.
While most Guernsey people acknowledge the pressing need for more housing, reality tends to bite and objections arise at planning application stage, with flashpoints caused by transport issues in particular. It has long been a personal frustration of mine - and I know it is one shared by my Committee - that the planning application process doesn't provide any opportunity to meaningfully improve the transport network across the wider area. As a result, cumulative impacts of developments have tended to compound existing problems and reduce the efficiency, safety, convenience and amenity of a neighbourhood.
That is why we are taking a different approach to the area in the north of the island that features multiple housing allocation sites. Especially given the issues residents already experience, we intend to work with the community, the various developers and people with specific expertise in mobility planning to improve connectivity, safety and choice. Whereas traffic impact assessments generally aim to limit the negative impacts of a development compared to the existing baseline, this approach aims to improve that baseline for everyone. Transport concerns are probably the issue with the strongest chokehold on housing, so we need to look at it differently and make meaningful improvements if we are serious about meeting the housing needs of the community.
A very important aspect of our transport system is our scheduled bus service, and members will be aware that it is under some considerable strain at the moment. Although a combination of factors including Brexit and Covid have conspired to create a perfect storm, most issues boil down to driver numbers: there are perhaps only half as many as there optimally would be, and this is generally what is leading to service reductions. As a committee, we understand the importance of a reliable regular service for the travelling public, so we have explored with CT Plus a number of options and are making concerted efforts to improve the situation, including measures to increase the rates of pay, reduce the age limit to bring it into line with the UK, and amend a Population Management policy that is proving to be a barrier. On a slightly brighter note, the Nightbus service has been restored to normal service levels now: we were very keen that people continued to have access to that safe and accessible way to travel home after a night out in Town.
While as ever there's not quite enough time to cover all the Committee's work that we'd like to update the Assembly on, I am of course happy to answer questions on any aspect of our very broad mandate.