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OPINION: P&R's housing plans are bold but reveal the wrong values

OPINION: P&R's housing plans are bold but reveal the wrong values

Wednesday 12 January 2022

OPINION: P&R's housing plans are bold but reveal the wrong values

Wednesday 12 January 2022

The Policy & Resources Committee recently unveiled plans to promote the development of around 90 large private sector homes on the site of the Castel Hospital. The plans are dividing opinion inside and outside the States. Here, Andrew Le Lievre, one of the island's most experienced voices on social welfare and social housing, shares his thoughts with Express readers.

"For some months, as time permits, I have been preparing a detailed history of social housing in Guernsey.

Partly to satisfy a desire to produce a document that might assist well-informed discussion given the island’s current housing situation.

But mostly to celebrate that 2022 represents the centenary of our first units of social housing, which were at La Gibauderie.

The work is proving to be both uplifting and slightly depressing - often at the same time.

From the vision of Deputy Edward T Wheadon - the father of social insurance and also, as it transpires, the father of social housing – through to the lows of the Henchman Report of 1968. From the massive building programme of the 1950s to the relative doldrums of the late 1970s and early 1980s. From the huge success of the Homes For Workers Loan scheme dating back to the period just after World War One through to what I consider to be its sorry demise in 2010.

Without going into vast amounts of detail about what influences the local housing market - much of which is contained in the Parr Report in States' Billet d’État II of 2003 - a basic truth is that government intervention in the market can be a veritable minefield if not done with the utmost care and consideration.


Pictured: The Policy & Resources Committee wants to see nearly 100 private sector homes on the site of the Castel Hospital and neighbouring fields. 

The recent announcement that the Policy & Resources Committee is about to bludgeon its way onto the local housing scene by going into partnership with one or more developers to construct 90 or so large houses with what it says will be 'decent-sized gardens' at the Castel Hospital site is as bold a move as has been made - probably ever - by any Committee involved with housing locally.

Not since the Henchman Report promoted the creation of the Grand Bouet Estate - sadly, not the States’ most glorious hour - has any Committee stepped into the ring with such a bold proposal, which includes concreting over fields. 

I do not, of course, object to larger homes in principle. Larger families need larger homes with larger gardens. I have said so many times at many meetings of various States' Committees, whether attending as an official, an elected deputy or a non-voting member.

What worries me is that Policy & Resources, the States' Senior Committee, considers that properties with three, four or five bedrooms and 'decent-sized gardens' should remain the preserve of those able to afford them on the private market.

Unfortunately, when it comes to building social housing, the need for 'decent-sized gardens' falls foul of demands for value for money and the consequent need to squeeze as many units as possible onto the footprint available. Go and take a look at the gardens in the ‘new’ Grand Bouet Estate and you will understand where I am coming from.


Pictured: Andrew Le Lievre understands why the Policy & Resources Committee is emphasising the need for larger family homes to have larger gardens, but he is concerned that the States are promoting that idea for private sector homes while at the same time forcing significant constraints on outdoor space at new social housing developments. 

Living cheek by jowl with your neighbour is not a recipe for easy living, especially not if a whole estate is subject to income limits, the top end of which are generally marginal.

When combined with low levels of income and the relative deprivation which tends to be associated with low levels of income, space, or a lack of space, can often lead to quite negative and destructive behaviour.

And yet, despite knowing this for decades, we persist in forcing the construction of social housing to be greatly constrained by value for money and in the process we routinely discount the likely social outcomes.

Not so it appears for the residents of the new Castel Hospital site development conceived by Policy & Resources.

Deputy David Mahoney

Pictured: Deputy David Mahoney is the Policy & Resources Committee's lead on property matters.

It is this disconnect between the policies for those of relative affluence and the policies for those who are much worse off - irrespective of the social outcomes provoked by such a different approach to housing - which leaves me questioning the direction of travel now being promoted by Policy & Resources and its lead on property, Deputy David Mahoney.

Perhaps the Committee for Employment & Social Security might at some stage find a seat for Deputy Mahoney. No doubt he would be a strong supporter of 'decent-sized gardens' for social housing developments. Then again, perhaps not."

Andrew Le Lievre (pictured top).

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