So what have I achieved in my first four months as Planning and Environment Minister? What have I done to help with business-friendly policies? What am I aiming for when it comes to helping trade?
Firstly, can I say that things take time. That much I have found out. And in many cases there are laws that need amending. However, since becoming minister I’ve reduced planning red tape, set in motion plans to regenerate St Helier, helped funnel support towards farming, and started on a long-term project to limit the impact of climate change on local businesses and realise business benefits from the renewable sector.
One of the first issues that crossed my desk was support for farming. I’ve been involved in efforts to keep our countryside diversified. With the help of Economic Development and Jersey Business, the Island now has a new state-of-the-art packing house to allow local producers to access local supermarkets with local crops – a vital move in an Island with such deep agricultural traditions.
I’ve also given a bit extra to local organic growers and there’ll be a new initiative to help increase returns from the marketplace for that sector in 2016.
Staying with the countryside, I’ve approved a limited number of Sites of Special Interest on the Five Mile Road, a move I hope benefits the tourist industry and the environment, and also boosts the blue economy.
I want to enlarge the Island’s excellent footpath network, and I’m pleased my department is working closely with Transport and Technical Services and land owners in St Peter’s Valley to create a fantastic new two-mile foot and cycle path.
Hopefully this will mean that pedestrians and cyclists will no longer have to use a dangerous road and, if successful, will be a real boost for tourists and locals. It’s a great example of the public and private sector working together to deliver practical solutions without causing unnecessary harm to the countryside and the sensitive ecology of the area.
I know planning is an area many people have views on, and some will be pleased to know that I am working on development that doesn’t require planning permission. Some signage shouldn’t need approval and ‘change of use’ should be less complicated. Indeed, there are many small, repetitive things we don’t need applications for. Some changes will be made very quickly but I’m also going to conduct a much wider review of permitted development, to be completed during this session of government.
I’ll also be looking to planners to make more decisions on listed buildings following my move to reduce the size of the ‘historic’ advice resource in the Planning Department, and that includes revising the ‘windows’ guidance.
That doesn’t mean I want to see triple-glazed plastic windows in Gorey Castle, but I do want planners to take a common-sense approach to the replacement of windows, as we all try to work together to reduce energy consumption across the Island.
Energy requirements will be reduced further as new bye-laws come into force this year. Buildings will have to be even more thermally efficient. While it might cost a little more in the short term, the pay back will be pretty quick, both environmentally and financially.
There are also opportunities here for the construction industry (and others) to expand their workforce into this new and exciting ‘eco’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘micro-renewable’ sector.
We’ve put a lot of work into improving how people use the planning system. Very soon, you will be able to submit applications for all but the largest schemes online, saving us all time and money. And you’ll be able to pay online too.
Finally, the regeneration of St Helier is one of the Council of Ministers’ priorities and is important to all of us who work, live in and visit town. Before any firm decisions about the future of St Helier are made, we’re finding out what people want. If you haven’t yet given your views, I’d urge you to complete our online poll or email or speak to me directly. We want as many people as possible to contribute to our proposals to improve St Helier.
There’s so much more to do… watch this space!