Environment and Planning
The Chief Minister’s Ministerial letters, published on 10 August 2022, included a letter to the Minister for the Environment, the key part of which said –
I look forward to progress being made on improving water, air and soil quality, and the drive to reduce carbon emissions in line with our Carbon Neutral Roadmap and our obligations under the Paris Agreement. As you know, I am particularly keen on renewable energy as a power source, and getting homes insulated. The move to carbon free transport will also need to be accelerated. I look forward to you collaborating with the Minister for Infrastructure on this issue.
Increasing the number of affordable houses available to Islanders is also of key importance, and I look forward to you working with the Minister for Housing and Communities in delivering this objective. Of course, not everyone can afford to buy, and I will aid you in supporting those who are. In terms of planning, I support your aims to investigate a proactive and adaptable model that is more flexible - including a system that enables unused office space to be converted to housing. I have also outlined the need to limit the development of large new houses for a limited period.
You will also work closely with the Minister for Housing and Communities, and the Minister for Infrastructure, to make any appropriate structural changes to enhance accountability and support cost-effective solutions for the Department of Infrastructure, Housing and Environment.
The chapter for the Minister for the Environment in the Ministerial plans for 2024, published on 19 September 2023, set out six priorities -
1. Tackling the climate emergency by reducing Jersey’s carbon emissions in line with our net-zero target and improve our resilience to the impacts of climate change.
2. Protecting and enhancing Jersey’s natural environment and heritage by:
- extending protection of the Island’s rich geodiversity to ensure that geo-heritage assets are valued and appreciated
- continuing to designate conservation areas to protect and improve the architectural and historic character and appearance of these special places
- continuing to develop our understanding of the Island’s archaeological heritage and ensuring its appropriate consideration and protection
- developing a marine spatial plan to ensure the sustainable management of the Island’s marine environment, and bringing forward proposals to develop a marine park
- better protecting biodiversity • through new legislation and planning
policies; exploring the introduction of biodiversity net gain; and progressing strategic workstreams to address biodiversity loss (including trees)
- working with the Minister for Infrastructure to bring forward legislation to ban disposable vape
3. Ensuring the delivery of the homes and infrastructure that are essential to economic prosperity and Islanders’ wellbeing; and enhance the quality of places in the Island, by:
- beginning to prepare the evidence base for the next island plan, to include understanding the need for homes and key infrastructure
- working to explore the introduction of a development levy for the Island
- implementing a licensing scheme to regulate rental properties to ensure minimum standards in rental dwellings are maintained
- progressing the development of a long-term Island-wide water strategy, and undertake a review of the Water (Jersey) Law 1972 in line with the objectives
- following the development of the water strategy
4. Promoting flexibility, responsiveness, and efficiencies in the way that we work to best meet the needs of our customers by:
- ensuring the planning system is responsive to key priorities; and reviewing the form of the Island Plan and the process by which it is revised to ensure that it is fit-for-purpose, accessible and of more relevance to islanders
- continuing to review, develop and publish planning guidance that better supports the planning service and helps to deliver the Island Plan
5. Improving value for money in the delivery of our public services
6. Improving the performance of departments and services.
Bridging Island Plan
The Bridging Island Plan 2022-25 is the current key planning document. The Government website states -
The Island Plan is hugely important for Jersey. It sets out how, as a community, we'll:
- create homes
- strengthen our economy
- protect and improve our environment
- provide for a good quality of life
- enhance what’s special about our island
Under Jersey’s plan-led system, it’s the primary consideration in any planning-related decision making.
The policies of the Island Plan have been carefully formulated to achieve the sustainable development of the island with a balance between social, environmental, and economic considerations.
This plan is formed of 4 volumes [introduction and strategic proposals, strategic policies, managing development and performance and delivery]. Each volume is broken into chapters which share a common theme and address a set of issues through a series of policies and proposals. The policies do not stand in isolation and should be read together, with other relevant policies and the proposals. Each of the policies in the plan is supported by a written justification that explains the considerations that have applied in developing the policy and how it should be used.
Review of how planning decisions are made
On 23 January 2023 the Government commissioned Jim McKinnon CBE, former Chief Planner to the Scottish Government to conduct an external review of how planning decisions are made.
The Review of Planning for the Government of Jersey was duly published on 13 May 2023.
The report does not have a summary of the analysis. Following are some of the significant comments –
- There is no comprehensive data on the performance of the Planning Applications Team in Jersey. The deficiencies in the IT systems are largely at the root of this. From the information that is available it is, however, clear that targets for dealing with pre- application advice, validation and determination of applications are not being met and by an increasing margin.
- A common theme from stakeholder sessions related to the difficulties in contacting planners with some less accessible and more reluctant to engage than others. There is no statement of the quality of customer service that applicants, agents and those wishing to make representations should expect to receive.
- There is no Business Plan for the Planning Service with a clear indication of what must be done, by whom and by when.
- The process for validating and registering applications is totally unfit for purpose and is a major cause of dissatisfaction with the way that planning applications are determined.
The Report made 17 recommendations, the top one of which is to –
- Introduce efficient, effective, and sustainable processes for validating and registering planning applications.
The Minister published his response Review of Planning Services (2023) on the same day. He has accepted the recommendations in full –
There is a lot of background noise in politics, but one of the clearest messages to emerge from the last election was a desire for a government that focused on delivery, particularly delivery of new homes. This requires a planning system that works efficiently for the whole island. That is why in my ministerial priorities I identified the importance of a planning system that is responsive to the government’s key priorities, including the delivery of new homes, responding to the climate emergency and protecting the natural and built environment.
There are always tensions between the need for more housing and policies designed to protect the environment. However, quite separate from these normal tensions, the island has the right to expect a planning service that is efficient, consistent and delivering high standards of customer service.
Currently we are falling short. There are a variety of reasons for this, but rather than focus on the past, I want to focus on the future. In order to drive change fast and effectively, I decided that an outside review - conducted by someone with considerable knowledge and experience of planning services - would offer a quick route to improvement.
Mr MacKinnon has produced a report with a clear-eyed analysis and practical, easily understood recommendations. I am happy to accept the recommendations in full.
On 8 January 2024 the Government published Improvement Plan Update for Planning services . The report includes some key statistics for 2023 –
- 1,164 planning applications were determined, of which 75% were approved
- 81% of minor planning applications were determined within Planning Service' target of 8 weeks or an alternatively agreed period
- 62% major planning applications were determined within Planning Service' target of 13 weeks or an alternatively agreed period
- 79% of live applications referred to the Planning Committee for a decision agreed with Planning Services recommendation
In the press release on the report the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Jonathan Renouf, said –
The final quarterly update of 2023 shows improvement in several areas of Planning Services. Most of the recommendations in the MacKinnon Report have been implemented on time, or even ahead of schedule, reflecting our commitment to promote flexibility, responsiveness, and collaboration in the planning system.
Over this last quarter, we have been particularly focusing on building relationships with the industry to ensure a collaborative approach, as outlined in the Improvement Plan. Additionally, a combined effort by Technical Support Officers and Planning Officers meant the teams were able to clear the backlog of applications awaiting validation.
The recruitment for more Technical Support Officers in Planning Services over the next couple months will help to consolidate better performance in validation and registration.
While acknowledging the positives, I know a lot more still needs to be done, particularly to speed up the processing of applications. I have set an ambitious timescale for the transformation of Planning Services, and I am committed to delivering this to ensure the best service possible for Islanders.
As part of my commitment to continuous improvement, and to ensure full transparency, I will be welcoming Jim Mackinnon back in February to review progress over the last year. It is important to have independent analysis to ensure that Islanders can see where we are making progress, and where progress is still needed.