On Friday, after 10 hours of debate, States’ members overwhelmingly approved proposals for an east coast development agency.
Its strongest supporters say it will release private enterprise to help secure the island’s future prosperity through ambitious projects on a scale unseen in 150 years. Its strongest critics say that at best it will waste years doing nothing much and at worst privatise the public realm and despoil one of the most beautiful coastlines in Europe.
Express looks behind the rhetoric and delves into the States’ Resolutions to explain what the States actually decided and what will happen next…
Pictured: The proposals for a development agency were unveiled by the Policy & Resources Committee just over two months ago. They were debated by the States at their meeting which finished on Friday.
The development agency will be formed as a company limited by guarantee wholly owned by the States. This is the structure of companies such as Guernsey Electricity and Guernsey Post.
The development agency will have a broad remit to identify and execute development projects along the east coast. It will control areas of public land and be able to enter agreements with private and third sector organisations for development projects.
The development agency will have six directors, all independent of the States, and initially will be run by three members of staff.
Pictured: The Policy & Resources Committee's intention is that the development agency will run large parts of the east coast from the Bridge, above, to the southern end of Town.
A group of three States’ members will be formed to oversee the development agency.
Three States’ committees – Policy & Resources, Economic Development and Environment & Infrastructure – will each nominate one member to sit on the political oversight group.
Its first task will be to agree a process for appointing members of the agency. After that, the States’ Resolutions provide the political oversight group with notably limited powers to intervene in the work of the development agency.
It is as yet unclear whether the oversight group will be a sub-committee of the Policy & Resources Committee (P&RC). This will be settled in a subsequent States’ debate and will determine whether or not P&RC is to be accountable for the oversight group. This matters because deputies will not be able to ask questions of the oversight group or development agency in the States’ Assembly and instead must ask them through P&RC.
Pictured: Deputies Peter Ferbrache and Carl Meerveld, top, clashed over how much political oversight there should be of the development agency. The latter's amendment to require the development agency's projects to be approved by the States was defeated.
The States has agreed a maximum budget of £1million to fund the development agency in its first two years.
This will fund the cost of three staff and initial analysis of economic, social and environmental opportunities for development.
The intention is that the development agency will require no cash funding from States’ general revenue from its third year of operation onwards.
The initial proposals for the development agency would have put it outside the States’ Freedom of Information Code. This would have prevented deputies, the media and others from using the Code to obtain information about the work of the agency.
An amendment to bring the agency within the Freedom of Information Code was swiftly accepted by the Policy & Resources Committee and approved by the States without debate.
Pictured: Deputy Yvonne Burford laid a successful amendment to bring the development agency within the scope of the States' Freedom of Information Code.
The development agency will control potentially significant areas of public land on behalf of the States. It will not be able to sell the land, but it will be able to enter into long-term leases for its use.
Some States’ members say this is essential to encourage private sector investment in the kind of development projects they consider necessary; others argue that it amounts to transferring the public realm to the private sector.
As a result of a successful amendment, this issue will now come back to the States for further debate.
In particular, and before anything substantial can happen, the P&RC will need to secure further States’ approval for what is described as a clear land management transfer policy.
Pictured: The States did not decide which land should be transferred to the development agency or how it should be done. They agreed that there will be another States' debate on land transfer policies and the Policy & Resources Committee was sent away to draft some proposals.
The States has directed that the plans of the new development agency should include the most viable option for taking through traffic off the surface level of the road along a stretch of the seafront – probably but not definitely between the South Esplanade and the North Beach roundabout.
This is a clear direction to the development agency – this project must be included in its overarching plan for the whole of the east coast.
The States has not, however, voted to construct a tunnel between the South Esplanade and the North Beach roundabout. The development agency has flexibility to take forward whichever option it considers best to reduce vehicle movements along Town seafront.
Pictured: The States backed a proposal from Deputy Lindsay de Sausmarez which requires the development agency to work up plans to remove through traffic from a stretch of the Town seafront.
This is where the outcome of the States’ debate remains most contested. Certainly, it’s where the States’ Resolutions are least clear.
Conventionally, setting policy is a matter for elected politicians. Whereas the execution of policy – or operations – may be left to officials or bodies like a development agency.
These States’ Resolutions appear to have turned this convention on its head.
“The preparation of a strategic direction…for the provision of infrastructure along Guernsey’s east coast” has been delegated to the non-political development agency. Whereas “set[ting] out options for Guernsey’s future operational harbour and commercial port infrastructure” will be done by the highly political P&RC.
In addition, before anything much can be done to the harbours, planning law requires the completion of a Local Planning Brief. The States has agreed that this Brief cannot realistically be done in less time than about 18 months after the Assembly has decided on the future of commercial port infrastructure, which it has declined to twice in debates over the past nine months.
Pictured: The States once again declined to make any decisions about the future of the island's harbour requirements.
There are essentially two schools of opinion in the States.
One says the development agency – populated by business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators – will swiftly do what would take politicians and civil servants an age, if they did it at all.
The other says the development agency will be unable to make even modest progress until politicians make policy and planning decisions about the future of the commercial ports in perhaps 2024 or 2025 at best.
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