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

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Wednesday 28 September 2022

General Update

Madam Deputy Bailiff,

The Committee has had a very busy six months since the last general update.

The Electricity Strategyworkstream is running on full power. There's been constructive engagement from energy industry and business community stakeholders through workshops and the targeted technical consultation that ran over the summer, and political colleagues who attended the presentations a couple of weeks ago will be in no doubt as to the expertise that supports this complex piece of work. The consultation feedback has been really useful and has brought to light some questions that need further exploration. This may slightly shift the timing, meaning the strategy may be debated in Quarter 1 next year rather than this December as originally hoped, but it's still moving at pace as there's nothing like a global energy crisis to sharpen one's focus.

Also progressing under the Energy and Climate Change Policies is an important piece of work looking at the energy efficiency of Guernsey's buildings - and more specifically, what we can do to improve their standards and performance in that respect. This issue has a critical role to play in our transition to net zero - but it also helps deliver on the GWP priority to improve living standards and ultimately will inform options to address fuel poverty as well. We aim to bring a policy letter to the States in Quarter 1 next year.

Another GWP priority area is of course housing. Work has started on the Market Intervention Project, which includes the development of proposals for the agreed scheme to help first time buyers, as well as a review of the existing Partial Ownership Scheme. We're also doing some research to better understand and evidence the nature, cause and severity of the current problems in the housing market to give us up-to-date data and help us prioritise the delivery of any interventions.

The Policy Letter for the States Strategic Housing Indicator will be finalised once the outcome of the Population & Immigration Review is known. This will recommend the number of additional units of accommodation that Guernsey needs to meet its projected housing requirements, broken down by tenure (i.e. private, social rental and partial ownership housing) and property size (i.e. the number of bedrooms). This additional level of detail and the fact the data can be kept much more current are advantages of bringing the modelling in-house, negating the need to commission the work out every five years.

To deliver on our housing requirements we need also to deliver the transport infrastructure necessary to support it. We're working with the GHA on a mobility plan for the north of the island, which will identify opportunities for network improvements and options to improve transport choice, safety and convenience.

The Taxi Review, completed and published earlier this month, has delivered a comprehensive analysis of the state of the sector and, while we're working with industry and the report's author to determine the best course of action, we have already implemented some pragmatic changes that remove unnecessary barriers to entry for new drivers.

Our bus service has not been disrupted by the recent change in ownership of CT Plus. Tower Transit, part of the Kelsian group, has bought the operation from the previous parent company, the HTC group, and brings with it a wealth of experience of operating in island communities internationally as well as a keen interest in innovation and decarbonisation. The shortage of bus drivers affecting our service is, as I've explained previously, a global issue so there's no silver bullet solution, but Tower Transit are well connected in the UK bus industry which should help extend the reach of CT Plus' recruitment efforts. They're also well aware of our need for live bus tracker data and a better journey planning function and assured me on the day they took over that they were looking into solutions for both.

Anyone who's felt that there have been more road closures than usual recently has not been imagining it: there's been a significant uplift in temporary traffic management measures in the last twelve months thanks in no small part to the fibre roll out. No road is ever closed for fun: the team process literally thousands of applications each year for various jobs affecting traffic management - from utilities to road repairs and cleaning to special events -and work hard to co-ordinate them to minimise inconvenience to the travelling public.

Anyone applying for a driving or vehicle licence recently will be aware that the DVL service has relocated from Bulwer Avenue to Edward T Wheadon House. This marked the launch of the new MyGov Customer Hub in June, the first step in the development of the initiative which is bringing together many of the States' customer facing services. Keeping business as usual running to a high standard through a physical move and major organisational restructure has been challenging. The next step is making more services available online as well, which will help improve customer choice and convenience and make more efficient use of States resources.

Environment & Infrastructure is also supporting the wider programme of property rationalisation and the associated change in operating model - the result of which essentially sees more people working in fewer States buildings. This increases pressure on parking, so we've been supporting the development and implementation of travel plans to give people more viable transport options at each end of and during the working day - changes to enable and facilitate both car sharing and lift sharing, for example, as well as support for active travel.

There's a lot of work taking place on coastal infrastructure. In terms of routine maintenance, Havelet wall repointing is ongoing, as is the repointing close to Catioroc. Rock armouring and roadside wall repairs at Rocques Poisson are about to be commissioned. We've also been working with the Vale Douzaine to address their concerns over the erosion of the coastal path at La Fontenelle, which will involve carefully moving the shingle bank, monitoring the impacts on the ecosystem.  

The work at L'Ancresse East is progressing as agreed by the States, so rock armour will be placed at panels 8 and 9 once the tendering process has taken place in the next few months.

In terms of the capital projects, I'm pleased to report that - finally! - funding for work to the cliff and Napoleonic wall at Fermain has been approved. We're currently preparing for the environmental impact assessment necessary for the planning application.

The site investigation work on the Petit Port cliff has been completed and we're expecting remediation work to start in the Spring, subject to planning approval and contractor availability.

We're still waiting for funding approval to make the cliff at the Cow's Horn safe and restore access to Clarence Battery. It will be neither cheap nor quick, but if P&R approve the funding, this project should be completed next summer.

The Bathing Pools have had a bumper season, particularly thanks to the fantastic Vive La Vallette project which has proved immensely popular with locals and visitors alike. The E&I Committee was well represented in the Sea Donkey Challenge last month, contributing to fundraising efforts for improved wheelchair and reduced mobility access to the Ladies' Pool.

Last year, we launched the Strategy for Nature fund, which offers financial support for community initiatives that benefit our local environment through conservation, protection, and enhancement. Projects that have flourished under this scheme include Grow Guernsey Natives, sour fig removal, equipment for invertebrate identification, dolphin research, bat conservation and the Lihou Island garden project.

We are also working in partnership with the Pollinator Project, Guernsey Water, Guernsey Waste, the Health and Safety Executive and other stakeholders to reduce the use of pesticides generally across the island and support more sustainable land management practices. The Health & Safety Executive's decision to restrict the use of glyphosate to professional and licenced use only from the start of next year should have a positive impact on the levels of that particular substance entering the ecosystem and our water courses, but the risk we're keen to minimise is that this very commonly used substance is simply replaced by other substances that have adverse impacts that may be more difficult to manage. That's why our focus is on reducing pesticide use overall by promoting and supporting more sustainable alternative land management methods - not just alternative products.

Some of the island's most important land managers from an environmental perspective are our farmers, and it will have escaped nobody's notice that that industry has faced a perfect storm of challenges this year, culminating in a calamitously dry summer on top of eyewatering agri-inflation, severely affecting the cost of running our 12 dairy farms. We worked with farmers and the Dairy Management Board to understand and evidence the problem, and then with P&R to agree an emergency funding package. That is of course only a short-term measure: the long-term economic and indeed environmental sustainability of our dairy sector is the focus of a review that is being undertaken now. Mindful of the urgency of this work, we hope to be able to take some recommendations informed by that review to the States early next year.

Last week's launch of the GFSC's Natural Capital Fund framework was a reminder, during Sustainable Finance Week, of Guernsey's ability to punch above our weight in the supporting the global transition to the green and blue economies. Green finance is a key pillar of our Climate Change Policy for that reason. We are working with Guernsey Finance, the GFSC and industry groups to enhance our policy alignment to make the most of economic and environmental opportunities.

We're increasingly aware of the importance of our own natural capital - not just in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation, of course, but also for all the other social and environmental benefits it supports - so I'm pleased to report that we're in the process of dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's and we expect to be able to build some real momentum behind the Nature Commission later this year and into next.

Finally, the Committee will be bringing a policy letter to the States in Quarter 1 to decide the future of Les Vardes Quarry. We've been working closely with both Guernsey Waste and Guernsey Water to understand the longer-term requirements and potential conflicts and opportunities. It is a chance to do that rare thing in politics: to look at an issue in the round and make joined up strategic decisions.

I look forward to answering any questions members may have on any area of E&I's mandate.

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