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SPEECH: “The requerants approached this debate with a straight bat”

SPEECH: “The requerants approached this debate with a straight bat”

Monday 18 July 2022

SPEECH: “The requerants approached this debate with a straight bat”

Monday 18 July 2022


A requete aiming to protect a green field in the grounds of the Princess Elizabeth Hospital was lost last week, after a counter proposal was voted through instead.

The amendment from Deputies Neil Inder and Mark Helyar means that any development of the land for key worker housing will now lead to the States’ buying land elsewhere for grassland or dairy farming.

It leaves the door open for a proposed development of the field, the details of which you can find HERE.

The issue led to a heated debate in the States’ chamber, however some requerants were denied the ability to speak on the topic after a successful guillotine motion forced a vote without further general debate.

One of the deputies who signed the requete, Deputy Heidi Soulsby, has since released her planned speech in full. You can read it below:

“Seven vergees. That’s not much is it? Less than 3 acres. Just big enough to fit the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium pitch and surrounding grass. But you can’t play football on it as it’s not exactly a level playing field.

“And, that last point kind of reflects why myself and others decided we needed this requete.

"Deputy Falla and others have spoken about the particular site at the PEH that galvanised us into action, a designated Agricultural Priority Area, and explained its qualities, but this requete is about far more than that. Deputy Inder says there is inconsistency in being a requerant and also being someone who he said ‘signed the cheque’ to buy Kenilworth Vinery and the Salt Pans site. There is no inconsistency at all as neither site is an Agricultural Priority Area, which is what this requete has been about.

“The requete arose from the concern of its signatories as to the process undertaken in determining a site for key worker housing. We have all been surprised that decisions have been made without full discussion at either PRC or HSC. This is critically important as the States is looking to take advantage of an exception to policy to be able to build on an APA outside of a main or local centre. The IDP does not, as a matter of course, allow it.”

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“Deputy Ferbrache said we don’t want to get rid of a green field unless absolutely necessary. Well, I agree with him. The point is, the facts are, it is not absolutely necessary. To vote  to support building on the green field in question, which is effectively what we are now being asked to do, is not to show courage which Deputy Ferbrache said it was. It’s actually not to understand that building on an APA is unnecessary. He spoke eloquently and persuasively about how we need nurses. Well, we all appreciate that, but to build on the field won’t solve that issue now.

“I enjoyed his history lesson and how the States bought the land in 1934, but that was before the hospital was built – the give away is in the title – and it ended up being built somewhere else! That was for a hospital too, not housing, let’s not forget. And if it was thought necessary for development, why was it zoned an APA in 2016? Well, because it wasn’t. The whole aim back then was to focus only those services needed on the PEH site. Small flats don’t qualify on that front.

“It has become apparent to the requerants that other perfectly adequate and acceptable sites have been rejected because they are more than a kilometre away from the PEH. This is patent nonsense on 2 counts. Firstly, there is no good reason why it is considered necessary to be so close to the hospital. Deputy Brouard doesn’t like the phrase but I will say it – who wants to live ‘above the shop?’ The RCN says not. We have had nurses email us to say they do not. We may have permanent staff at John Henry Court but they don’t stay there very long, but for 2 years and then what?”

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“It seems the view that it is necessary to be so close to the hospital was formed from the idea that nurses coming over here had asked for it. Well, for someone living in the UK, being close to your place of work could mean 10 to 20 miles away or more. I’m not sure actually living on site is something that they had in mind necessarily. Certainly, there will be few families who think it would be a fantastic option and it is family accommodation that is really pressing for key workers. Only in Guernsey can anything more than 1km a way be considered too far. They could make a feature film about it – ‘The’ Bridge Too Far.

"The second reason that it makes no sense is that, whilst proximity to the PEH may be good to get to work, it is not ideal when it comes to access to goods and services. It is not part of the main,  or local, centres after all.

“Deputy Leadbeater made a comment about inheriting the numbers of agency staff. This was somewhat disappointing as I can say that the last Committee reduced the number of agency nurses to such an extent last term that we ended up with wards with no agency nurses thanks to the hard work of our officers and the loyalty of our permanent and bank nurses. I am not blaming the current Committee for the levels we have now – COVID and Brexit have clearly had an effect. Of course they have. However, the numbers – 144 is the latest I’ve been advised - are totally unsustainable, with HSC over £1.5m over budget to date as a result, and there needs to be a concerted effort to bring these levels down. As I said in response to Deputy Dudley-Owen in the earlier debate, we need to do far more to grow our own. The numbers graduating from the Institute are embarrassingly low, making it an incredibly expensive programme to run. We can and must do more and I hope ESC give it the attention it deserves.

“Now, the requerants do not believe there is an absolute necessity to build at the PEH campus but, if it is believed essential, then an alternative would be the Duchess of Kent site. It did score well in the appraisal but has been rejected because it will take more than 2-3 years to rebuild. Putting to one side the fact that it is highly unlikely that a building could be put up on the green field in that time period either, given it will take a minimum of 4 months just to get to an Open Planning Meeting, how does getting something in place in 2-3 years solve what is an immediate problem? Why is 2-3 years better than 5, when clearly neither are going to solve today’s issue?

“As an aside, I think a comment Deputy Ferbrache made about it costing £200k to move people out of DOK seemed to miss the point, because that is a cost that will happen anyway whether we move people now or in 5 years’ time. That is unless it is thought better to leave staff in an office not fit for purpose beyond that period, which I certainly hope is not the case, and certainly not what I understood to be the case, as it is scheduled as part of the Property Rationalisation programme.

“The wrong solution is being found for the problem that it is believed needs solving. Why are we not thinking laterally?”

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“We know that we have a high number of houses that are under-occupied, not necessarily empty, but under-occupied, with empty nesters and others living on their own. Many struggle to afford to pay the bills and this is only going to get worse as the cost of living rises.

“Rather than spend millions of pounds on housing temporary workers, why don’t we find out whether members of our community would be happy to take in some agency nurses - and be paid for it of course. The only downside might possibly be the need for more work by human resources officers, but if we do have a housing emergency, as we are told, then surely it would be worth it.

“Deputy Ferbrache spoke about nurses being in short supply. He’s not wrong, but we are not helping ourselves. The end of the 2 year rent allowance period leads to people leaving when it expires. More could be done to extend those for nurses that we want to keep.

“And on that, I am not sure where the money is coming from for this development. I would’ve expected that the GHA would do it but it appears that States Property Services have been tasked with the job. As an aside, I think I need to make it clear here that I have no criticism in any of this for those officers at States Property Services, who have just been doing what they have been told to do, albeit not through Committee decisions. What they have done is thorough. But it is not a capital project in the Government Work Plan, so PRC don’t have delegated authority to do it. I did hear that the Guernsey Investment Fund might be used but I understand they’ve not discussed it and don’t have the funds for it either. I’m sure someone will work it out but, at the moment, it is as clear as mud on a green field after a thunderstorm to me.

“Sir, our focus should be on building affordable housing for those healthcare workers who want to make their home here. ESS and HSC started that last term, working with the GHA to build Beauville, next to the Ville au Roi roundabout, which provides mixed, but importantly, family housing. That is what needs to continue and I am pleased, after years of campaigning, that things are beginning to be stepped up on that front with the recent land acquisitions at Kenilworth Vinery and Salt Pans helping to move that along.”

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 “There is no doubt that more key worker housing is required. However, that does not mean destroying an agricultural land when there is no logical reason to do so. Certainly not to destroy one and then believe that all will be fine and dandy if we replace it with another bit of land.

“And that leads me to what we have now.

“We think we can reduce the guilt of getting rid of a green field by creating a new one. But we all know if something appears too good to be true, it probably is and that really is the case here.

“Whilst superficially attractive, there are serious flaws to what seems such a simple solution.

"Firstly, the States needs to be able to find other land that fits the remit. I’m not sure whether any work has been done to identify such sites. But, even if so, what if that land will be of little benefit to the farmer who will lose the green field in question? The sad irony is this is the same farmer who lost the land at Les Blanches in St Martin which I and others campaigned against for many years. The value of this land is not just about the 7 vergees in question but the fact that it is part of a contiguous piece of land.

“The fundamental problem though is we don’t have enough land for agricultural use. And this is seen in the DPA letter of comment, as well as their annual IDP monitoring update.

"There are just under 16,000 vergees of land included as APAs. However, these include outbuildings and other bits and pieces that could not be farmed such that only around 8,000, including the field in question, is considered suitable for agricultural use.

"This is not enough, as stated by the DPA itself. That Authority says that preliminary estimates of future land requirements for commercial agricultural use is 15,000 vergees, increasing from 9,500 vergees, on the basis that there may be a requirement in the future to grow more fodder crops to allow the industry to become more self-sufficient and sustainable, along with the possible increase in the demand for smallholdings. 

"Surely, the events of the last year show how we ignore the need for more commercially viable agricultural land at our peril.

“Deputy Inder referenced the use of redundant greenhouses as set out in the Dairy Review. Well, I led on the review and know he’s correct, but it does not say anywhere that such sites should be interchangeable with an existing APA because it made no sense to do so.

“Even if members do think that it is ok to do a swap it would not be like for like, as La Société Guernesiaise and Farmers’ Association have made clear. A green field can’t be created overnight no matter how much money you throw at it – unless you want to put plastic grass over it and I’d hope no one believes that is a solution.

“That is effectively why it is important that we take biodiversity so seriously. Once a site is gone it is gone. You can’t cut and paste to somewhere else."

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“But the real issue with what we have ended up with is it does not address the intention of the requete, which is to set a policy for the States as landowner in respect of Agricultural Policy Areas. Deputy Inder referenced in an email to a member of a community why no one has cared about land in the North. Well, the original propositions in the requete were not site specific and would actually have set a policy for the island as a whole. His amendment, seconded by Deputy Helyar, has basically changed all that, which makes it all the more paradoxical.

“Sir, the requerants approached this debate with a straight bat. It has been disappointing that others have chosen to question our motives when all we want is to avoid the unnecessary destruction of the island we hold dear. We may have lost this debate but this won’t be the end of the story. I am hopeful common sense will prevail, but it will be after a lot of wasted effort when we could be focusing our attention on what could result in real action this day.”

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