The President of the Committee for Health & Social Care made an impassioned plea yesterday for support to build key workers' housing on a green field in the grounds of the Princess Elizabeth Hospital.
Deputy Al Brouard implored deputies not to rule out the proposed scheme unless they "want to put cows to intermittently graze the field ahead of people who need to care for our loved ones".
Deputy Brouard, pictured top, told the States' Assembly that a Requête led by Deputy Steve Falla to save the field from development is full of "misdirection and unresearched spin" and that its "lack of substance and poor arguments are not overcome by a local media public relations campaign".
Pictured: Deputy Steve Falla was accused of running a successful public relations campaign for a Requête which lacks substance.
"It’s contentious because you've made it contentious with the public relations campaign. It’s probably my fault that I didn’t go out enough and counteract it," said Deputy Brouard in a speech which lasted nearly an hour.
"Perhaps I should have done a public relations campaign, showing a few pictures of a lady in hospital desperate to leave and have that care package to support her in her own home with tears in her eyes because we are short of carers. Or that picture of the delayed operation and the man with the bones of his hip grinding in pain as he walks and his children helpless to help."
Deputy Brouard said the requérants' arguments "remind me of the Brexit Leave campaign that was successful…falling well short in delivery, well short of the promises and what people now realise was just spin".
Pictured: Deputy Al Brouard said the arguments put forward by signatories to the Requête reminded him of arguments used by the Leave campaign in the run up to the UK's Brexit referendum in 2016.
Ahead of the States' debate, the Committee for Health & Social Care said it had 422 staff vacancies in the 12 months up to May 2022 and that there is enough demand for additional healthcare workers alone to fill another 150 units of key workers' housing immediately if the units existed.
A majority of the Committee wants to keep open the option of applying for planning permission to build two accommodation blocks and car parking on the field, which is next to the former Duchess of Kent residential home. Deputy Brouard told the States that "one part of the solution for a cohort of our employees is to have accommodation on site".
The Committee has the support of a majority of the Policy & Resources Committee. But both Committees' Vice Presidents - Deputies Tina Bury and Heidi Soulsby - are opposed to the scheme and have signed Deputy Falla's Requête, which wants to see new key workers' housing on brownfield sites instead, possibly including on the Duchess of Kent site.
Pictured: Deputy Heidi Soulsby (left), Vice President of the Policy & Resources Committee, and Deputy Tina Bury, Vice President of the Committee for Health & Social Care, are signatories to the Requête and oppose developing the field for key workers' housing.
"I've been in politics a long time. Not many things make me cross. I very rarely get cross. But I must admit that this Requête has got me vexed and puzzled," said Deputy Brouard.
"They think it’s a really good idea to demolish over 4800 square metres of an in-use office and an in-use ward [the Duchess of Kent building] to knock it down and rebuild as staff accommodation. Do they have any idea as to the environmental footprint and cost that would have?
"I have no more pleasure than the next in using the valley, but that is what the professionals recommend.
"I see great value in that valley to provide accommodation to make a real difference to islanders with their health and social care needs."
Pictured: The field next to Duchess of Kent House which has become the subject of the first Requête debated by the States since they were elected in October 2020.
Opening debate on the Requête he is leading, Deputy Falla said that whether to build on the field should not be left only to some States' committees and in particular only to five members of the Development & Planning Authority, who would need to decide whether to apply a controversial planning policy, known as S5, to allow building on an Agricultural Priority Area.
"We feel accountable for what would be a big and we think unnecessary and destructive departure from planning policy," said Deputy Falla.
"I fully understand that we need more housing and certainly more key workers’ housing. The aim of this Requête is actually to support the development of more key worker housing, but in the right places.
"Whether a green Agricultural Priority Area should be built on needs to be debated, so that if nothing else Guernsey people can hear the rationale for building on a green field – the arguments for and against – rather than it be announced as a fait accompli off the back of a housing crisis.
"The news that some members of the Policy & Resources Committee and the President of the Committee for Health & Social Care were considering building key worker accommodation on the field rather seeped out a few months ago. This had not been discussed with their full Committees or widely among other relevant Committees or with States’ members.
"The ability to bust established policy should not be allowed to be left in the hands of a few deputies alone. This Assembly is the policy maker and the guardian of policy."
Pictured: Deputy Steve Falla said the Requête was necessary to try to protect the field and also to ensure the matter was debated publicly in the States' Assembly.
Deputy Falla went on to explain some of the reasons why he and his fellow requérants - Deputies Lindsay de Sausmarez, Adrian Gabriel, Simon Fairclough and Peter Roffey as well as Deputies Bury and Soulsby - consider the field worthy of protection from development for key workers' housing.
"I am not a dyed-in-the-wool, deep-rooted tree hugger, although I did state in one of five bullet points in my manifesto: emphasis on the environment - we must preserve what is good about our wonderful island, further enhance the environment and counteract climate change," said Deputy Falla.
"Guernsey has limited open space, limited green space. A building cannot easily be undone and, if built on, the Princess Elizabeth Hospital field would never revert to a green valley in the future."
Deputy Falla pointed to advice from the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure about "various studies show[ing] positive effects of green spaces on physical and mental health, including improved healing in hospitals with green spaces outside windows, decreased anxiety, and increased workspace satisfaction in offices with plants and/or the use of nature, and improved mental and physical wellbeing with greater exposure to green spaces".
He added: "We also have to place a value on this field’s other qualities, including the farming activity that has taken place there for generations, the biodiversity it supports and not least the 130 year-old veteran tree that defines its character.
"That sycamore tree has survived two world wars and the German occupation. It has stood testament to the comings and goings at Le Vauquiedor for four generations only to be potentially lopped down on the whim of a few States’ members."
Pictured: Deputy Peter Ferbrache backed Deputy Al Brouard's argument that States' members needed to make a choice between accommodation for key healthcare workers or a field for cows.
The President of the Policy & Resources Committee, Deputy Peter Ferbrache, spoke strongly against Deputy Falla's Requête. He asked deputies to "do what is right even if it takes a degree of courage" in the face of perceptions about public opinion.
"We are in a very difficult situation when it comes to housing key workers. The situation is desperate in the extreme. We are in an exceptional circumstance," said Deputy Ferbrache.
"There is a shortage of nurses worldwide. We in Guernsey have to offer our nurses the most attractive package that we can. One of the things you want to do when you finish work is go home to a nice home. It’s an arduous job being a nurse...it’s a really strained job."
Pictured: The Committee for Health & Social Care said that accommodation on the site of the Princess Elizabeth Hospital remained popular for healthcare staff who are eligible for key workers' housing.
"I want to protect every blade of grass. I want to protect every tree. I want to protect every cow. I want to do all that I can," said Deputy Ferbrache.
"But what I want to do more than ever is to say to someone who is sick in hospital, or whose father or mother or brother or sister is going to go into hospital, that you’ve got adequate staff to look after your brother, your sister, your mother, your child, your grandparent - and we are going to come to the situation where we’re not able to say that.
"We’re going to have to close wards. We’re going to have to say to people I’m very sorry we can’t do this for you because we’ve got the tree down the road which is 130 or 140 or 150 years old and we’ve got all these wonderful blades of grass and we’ve got a seven-vergee field which we could have done something with…but instead we want to knock down the building opposite and that will take four or five years [and] we won’t be able to build as many units, but never mind - you’ve got your field.
"We’ve got to realise we’ve got to do what’s practical, realistic and necessary and unarguably what’s practical, realistic and necessary is to reject the Requête."
Pictured: Deputy Peter Roffey said that his Committee for Employment & Social Security felt passionately about the need to provide more key workers' housing but that deputies were being presented with "a false choice" between building such housing in the field or not at all.
Deputy Peter Roffey challenged Deputy Ferbrache's analysis of the Requête.
"To listen to Deputy Ferbrache, you would have thought it was a choice: a blade of grass and no nurses' accommodation or nurses' accommodation and saving people's lives and losing grass," said Deputy Roffey.
"If that was the choice, I would be exactly where he was coming from. Unlike Deputy Falla, I probably am a nailed-on, tree-hugging environmentalist in some ways, but I don't put it before crucial social services, and I would absolutely put that first. But clearly that is a false choice.
"To suggest that it is either there [in the field at the Hospital] or nowhere...is clearly an absolutely ludicrous proposition and that's the whole proposition that Deputy Ferbrache's speech was built on. We can build 150, 200 or 250 units of key workers' accommodation elsewhere and on more appropriate sites."
Proponents of building on the field acknowledge that completing such a development would take years. Deputy Lindsay de Sausmarez told the States that "the more fundamentally important argument is that the need for key workers' accommodation is now - it's not in three years' time".
"We know that we need other options to deal with the problem that we are facing right here and right now, so we need to look at options that can be delivered and implemented much more rapidly, which is why we're keen to chase down any opportunity to repurpose existing buildings, be they in States' ownership or private ownership," said Deputy de Sausmarez.
"Nobody questions the need for more housing, including key workers' housing, but it is not accurate to suggest that building on the green valley would in any way mitigate this problem in the short term...and the irony is that by the time it was fully implemented...just as this building was being populated with key workers, [officials] would be saying to the Policy & Resources Committee of the time [they] could not justify keeping the Duchess of Kent running anymore - it's too problematic and too expensive."
Pictured: Deputy Lindsay de Sausmarez argued that building in the field was not the kind of quick and efficient project which is needed to provide the current significant demand for more key workers' housing.
But Deputy Brouard, whose speech drew applause from some members, said the Requête looked like "a poor attempt at virtue signalling at the cost of our health".
"It seems to me that Deputy Falla has a well-organised public relations campaign," said Deputy Brouard.
"The call to arms on Facebook to contact your deputy. Pictures of cows grazing and the cows wondering why on earth they’re on that field this week. The artist’s painting. There’s something every day. The important sycamore. But no-one is advocating its demise – it would be fantastic to have that incorporated into any design.
"I have spent hours and hours on this Requête and it has troubled me. This has got through my political armour. This is a wrecking Requête with little purpose that I can discern. It does nothing to solve our health and care staff shortages or to deliver services to the Bailiwick.
"Islanders deserve better. Government and politicians [are] at times about making those tough decisions for the good of the community - not some public relations junket."
Pictured: Deputy Yvonne Burford laid an amendment which she said would improve the Requête but it was defeated by the States.
Deputy Yvonne Burford laid an amendment to Deputy Falla's Requête. Deputy Burford wanted to alter the Requête to make it consistent with the island's planning laws.
Her amendment was laid just before the States adjourned at 17:30 yesterday. The States reconvened at 09:30 today and spent nearly three hours debating Deputy Burford's amendment before rejecting it not long before they adjourned for lunch at 12:30.
The States also voted to suspend their rules of procedure to allow a late amendment to be laid by Deputy Neil Inder.
He wants any decision to approve a planning application to develop the field in the grounds of the Princess Elizabeth Hospital to be followed by the States identifying another area of land of an equivalent size which they could purchase to enlarge an existing Agricultural Priority Area.
Debate continues on the Requête and amendments and Deputy Lyndon Trott, who is overseeing procedures as Acting Presiding Officer, has already advised the Assembly that it may be necessary to sit beyond 17:30 if it wants to conclude debate on the item today.
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