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"Macho man politics" drags down chaotic harbours debate

Friday 18 June 2021

"Macho man politics" drags down chaotic harbours debate

Friday 18 June 2021

Last-minute talks between two political committees at loggerheads over multi-million pound harbour proposals led to a "compromise" agreement being hastily-devised during the States' lunch break.

The States' Trading & Supervisory Board submitted its £360m proposals to regenerate Guernsey's Harbours for debate yesterday.

The Board wanted to build a completely new harbour so it can move all freight and fuel imports to Longue Hougue South, construct a new passenger terminal on North Beach and create multi-level underground parking in Town.

In his opening speech, STSB President Peter Roffey described it as a litmus test of the States' appetite for the 'action today' mantra given to it by Policy & Resources. 

Deputy Roffey said many had been drawn in by the headline costs, which would be spread out over 10 years. "Do not be scared of it because it is ambitious. There hasn’t been enough focus on the other side of the balance sheet. It will generate an enormous amount of money for our exchequer."

Pictured: A fly-through of the STSB's original £360m harbour re-development plans. 

Deputy Mark Helyar from Policy & Resources led a late amendment, published at midday on Wednesday, to delete all of the STSB's proposals and instead establish a Development and Regeneration Board, at arm’s length from politicians, to work up its own proposals.

"This is too big an opportunity to scupper. The most sensible path is to delegate the ability to deliver a wider, coherent and cogent programme of redevelopment and regeneration to a group tasked with only that responsibility."

He claimed that the STSB's proposals "have arrived out of phase with the Government Work Plan and the Eastern Seaboard Regeneration project."

Deputy Helyar's amendment also incorporated Deputy Neil Inder and Simon Vermeulen's amendment for a marina in the Pool of St Peter Port Harbour. 

Several deputies accused P&R of doing this purely to secure Deputy Inder's support.

"Are you people's deputies or nodding dolls?" 

Deputy Roffey reacted angrily to what he saw as further evidence of Guernsey's Government being run by an informal coalition between the Guernsey Party and the so-called 'van party', made up of committee presidents Deputies Inder, Peter Ferbrache, Andrea Dudley-Owen and Rob Prow. 

"So much for action this day," he retorted. "Eight months into this new political term and the first big decision the Assembly is being asked to make and P&R effectively seeks to sursis [delay] it."

"It is utterly feeble and so are P&R’s decisions. Giving it over to another body other than Guernsey Ports would be a foolish decision, as the project is interconnected with everything else at the harbour."

He described it as "a vote in favour of centralisation and control-freakery." Addressing members, he asked: "Are you people's deputies or nodding dolls?"

Deputy Inder spoke in debate, accusing Deputy Roffey of "putting personality politics before policy". He said he would support P&R's amendment if he got assurance that the membership of the regeneration board would not be made up of the same old faces. 

"It needs proper talent from the leisure industry. I need to know that it is going to be a real open recruitment process and absolute assurance towards the marina-sation of St Peter Port, working towards a December 2022 deadline."

Deputy Peter Ferbrache

Pictured: Deputy Peter Ferbrache and Deputy Roffey gave different accounts of a meeting they had just held, each disputing the other's recollection. 

After the lunch recess, Deputy Helyar revealed his committee had met with Deputy Roffey's in an effort to find a "compromise", which led to a completely new amendment - the ninth in total to the original policy letter. 

This time it was seconded by Deputy Roffey, but mirrored Deputy Helyar's first amendment far more than it did the STSB's proposals. It kept the proposal for a regeneration board, however this will be required to report back to the States with its recommendations instead of being given executive powers. 

It was approved by the Assembly, subject to final sign-off at the end of debate. 

Following its late publication and distribution, several deputies felt like they needed more time to consider the amendment, which was given a price tag of £975,000 that Deputy Helyar was unable to substantiate when asked. 

"We’ve had a hasty decision over lunchtime. Is it the best of both worlds, or the worst?"

Difficulties with the States' IT systems added to the chaos, with Deputy Helyar's admitting that some of the discussion and documents shared over the lunch break had been over WhatsApp. 

An hour or so into debate, Scrutiny Vice-President Simon Fairclough summed up the situation by saying: "I think I understand what this amendment is trying to achieve now."

Deputy Adrian Gabriel questioned the process that had led to P&R only now holding last-minute discussions - more than a month after the STSB's policy letter was put in the public domain. Other deputies said they had been contacting P&R in advance of the debate, but did not receive replies.

"We’ve had a hasty decision over lunchtime. Is it the best of both worlds, or the worst?" asked Deputy Gabriel. 

Deputy David Mahoney

Pictured: There is residual tension between P&R and the STSB over Employment Lead Deputy David Mahoney's alleged refusal to sanction the replacement of two of the STSB's senior officers, who have been given newly-created jobs within P&R. 

Deputy Victoria Oliver said the 'debate' had been unedifying.

"I don’t like the way we have conducted ourselves today," she said. "We have been very 'macho man' rather than looking at the issues in detail."

The Assembly has now moved on to debating a completely different amendment: superseding the current proposals with another option to extend the St Port Harbour eastwards, accommodating a new large harbour and new passenger terminal.

The debate and final proposals are expected to be voted on later today.  

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