Below are our notes of the questions and answers at the Scrutiny Hearing with the Committee for Environment and Infrastructure held on Friday 8 April 2022. They are not a comprehensive transcript, please watch the relevant section of the recorded livestream rather than relying on them. Occasional timestamps are included to help with this.
Scrutiny will publish a full Hansard in due course on its webpage: gov.gg/Scrutiny.
The next hearing with be on 26 April with the Development and Planning Authority. 10-12 noon. Venue TBA.
31:40 Energy policy
49:30 Wildlife/Pollution/Animal Welfare legislation
1:07:45 Blue/Green economy
1:34:55 Development Agency
1:38:50 Nature Commission/Cop26/Paris Agreement
1:42:40 GLISPA/On Island Transport
1:54:40 Food supply
‘If the States are over-staffed with civil servants, I haven’t found them’ (8 Apr, Bailiwick Express)
Electricity strategy is ‘key to decarbonisation’ (9 Apr, Guernsey Press)
Scrutiny panel members:
- Deputy Yvonne Burford, President of Scrutiny Management Committee
- Deputy Aidan Matthews
- Paul Luxon, ex-Deputy and ex-CEO of Condor Ferries
- Mark Huntington, Chief Officer of SMC
For Committee for Environment and Infrastructure
- Deputy Lindsay de Sausmarez, President
- Deputy Sam Haskins, Vice-President
- Damon Hackley, Director of Operations
- Clare Barrett, Director of Environment and Infrastructure
Burford: How do you propose to resolve the housing v traffic conundrum?
De Saus: Gap in our current States processes. Not fair to put whole burden on one developer for sorting out the transport infrastructure for an entire area. Looking at planning applications on a site by site basis doesn’t give oversight of cumulative impacts, that’s where E&I needs to step in. One recent rejection has acted as a catalyst for change. Now taking a more area-wide approach. Traffic impact assessments assume that what you had before is acceptable. Want to look at how we improve things for the current residents, not just the future residents.
Burford: Requires additional investment?
De Saus: We’ve got the budget to do the initial work we want to do. The recommendations that come from that work may require more budget. Part and parcel of meeting housing requirements.
Burford: What should the States be doing in relation to traffic and Leale’s Yard?
De Saus: From what’s known at the moment, encouraged by the amount of thought that’s gone into transport connectivity. Cornerstone development for whole area. Site plans encourage active travel, discourage rat running, keeps vehicle movements on the periphery, includes shared mobility. Every shared car negates the need for 18.5 private vehicles.
Barrett: The Bridge Strategy is a Govt Work Plan workstream. Currently progressing the flood defence part of that as it’s needed for Leale’s Yard. Wider Bridge Strategy may get wrapped into Harbour Action Area Local Planning Brief.
Burford: Timescale of years in that case?
Barrett: Potentially yes. Don’t want to develop the Bridge frontage in isolation from all the other possibilities. Bridge Strategy was in the Gov Work Plan because at that time the plan was to develop St Peter Port first, but last week’s debate means briefs are needed for both harbours simultaneously so makes sense to look at it comprehensively.
De Saus: If States could agree strategy on commercial shipping, that would give more clarity. Whether harbour is commercial or leisure will shape how the area is used.
Burford: How should the States be looking to solve the current housing crisis?
De Saus: Transport is the key. Reason housing developments are refused is we have a very space-inefficient transport system. We need to decouple housing density from vehicle density. General Housing Enablement Law is in place now and ordinances will flow from that. We’ve been working through the Housing Action Group up to this point. Need to make a decision about what replaces that, if anything. Focus of that was ‘what can we progress quickly’? One of the things that will come back to this committee is market interventions – where, how and if the government should step in. For example, supporting first time buyers, providing plots for people to develop, making finance more available to a broader range of people. Doesn’t have to be government money, could be land.
Burford: If we increase population to help with demographics, will demand for housing always outstrip supply?
De Saus: Regardless of future projections, our existing housing stock is not able to meet the needs of those looking. E&I are developing a States Strategic Housing Indicator – a practical tool to give more insight into housing type needed, not just the number of houses. It’s an indicator because States isn’t in control of the number of private planning applications and houses built.
Luxon: Should we be preparing for some tasteful vertical residential development?
De Saus: Committee recognises that how we use land is a vital issue. Keen to look at spatial efficiencies – transport is part of that. If you do your transport well you use space in a much more efficient manner. Recognised in the SLUP and the IDP but there’s a cultural resistance. She has been involved in the population review. Understanding the housing requirements is going to be a really important factor in deciding on population.
Burford: Can the island meet its housing needs without building on green fields?
De Saus: Planning policy at the moment is to concentrate development on main and local centres which include some green field sites. Sites are owned by private individuals, States has no control over what gets brought forward. When the five year review of the IDP happens her personal view is that we need a conversation about whether we distinguish between green and brown field sites in the developable areas.
Haskins: If we build upwards then transport issues worsen.
De Saus: Sprawl doesn’t make transport easier, exacerbates. Sprawl is expensive. Common sense to focus develop in right areas.
Burford: Given the breadth of your mandate, is your committee adequately resourced?
De Saus: Personal view is we are very thinly stretched, have serious concerns. Incredibly broad mandate, concerned about key person dependency. Put an awful lot of work on a few shoulders. Going through property rationalisation, moving of staff, new system, a lot of uncertainty. We’ve lost a lot of expertise over the last ten years, specific expertise in environmental and ecological area, not been replaced like for like. Similar headcount but people at lower level. Had vacancies for extraordinary amount of time, years sometimes. As an employer, would like to see us step up a bit.
Burford: Is the resource there for those vacancies?
De Saus: Yes.
Burford: What’s the barrier to filling those positions?
De Saus: I’ve asked questions but this is operational. We’ve asked HR to increase remuneration. Don’t think we are that competitive with private sector.
Hackley: Totally agree. As Dep Ferbrache said, governments expect to do a lot with little. Problem across all committees. Will be looked at as part of the Gov Work Plan. See if we can do less. Been trying to prioritise based on resources but not necessarily affording the resources, it’s the availability.
Burford: How does this square with public view that the States is stuffed with civil servants?
De Saus: If it is, I haven’t found them. Chief Operations Officer has agreed that E&I are particularly stretched, next iteration of GWP will try to prioritise but this stretched across business as usual too. With road maintenance and coastal defences, a stitch in time saves nine. So worried about cutting back on that kind of work.
Burford: Anyone listening should know that the GWP focuses on new work but there is an issue with business as usual already.
Luxon: Are you having sleepless nights about some of the priorities disappearing?
De Saus: Concerned from the island’s perspective. If we’re asked to choose between energy transition or housing or climate change, what do we choose? They are symbiotic. Hope we won’t be asked to make those choices and personally reassured by the GWP prioritisation process.
Luxon: Guernsey’s energy policy is decarbonisation, security of supply, customer value and choice, equity and fairness, being supportive of a vibrant economy and greater energy independence. Does the Committee believe these remain the key objectives?
De Saus. Yes. Currently working on the electricity strategy. IPCC report underscores the importance of those workstreams.
Luxon: How achievable are decarbonisation and security of supply and in what timeframe?
De Saus: Electricity strategy will be brought to the States this year. It’s a major piece of work. Working with local energy stakeholders and commissioned expertise. Affordability, security of supply, environmental impact – have to trade off between them, find the appropriate balance.
Luxon: How comfortable are you with the speed of progress after that?
De Saus: Hopeful we can give this the priority it deserves. Three sub-strategies: market, supply, demand. Some can be progressed quicker than others. An offshore wind farm would have a lead in time of 8 years. Some demand initiatives could be much quicker. Confident we can achieve our international commitments. All energy providers in the island have demonstrated an excellent attitude in working with us.
Burford: UK published its energy strategy yesterday. Some criticism of lack of focus on demand. Not the case for Guernsey?
De Saus: The top tranche of the energy hierarchy is ‘Avoid’. We’ve structured our energy strategy specifically to focus on that.
Luxton: Does plugging into the European grid raise additional security issues for the island?
De Saus: No concerns about the short term security of supply. Geopolitical risk will be factored into the energy strategy. Never going to be entirely energy independent, so we will always have some level of geopolitical risk. Underscores the need to decarbonise as quickly as possible.
Luxton: Appreciate it could seem callous to talk of our security of supply. France could play tactics with supply in relation to fishing etc, must be a testing balance to way up.
De Saus: Lot of focus in the media but that was part of our analysis. Reiterate, no concerns for short term supply. When looking at security of supply, we look at what would happen if one, or two, sources weren’t available. Generators on island rely on vulnerable supply chains. So never an option free of external factors.
Haskins: Personally, he focuses on energy independence. In the States the priority of energy independence is shifting.
Luxton: Sometimes we have to find least worst compromises?
De Saus: Agree that even since the energy policy was debated in 2020, the aspect of independence has become more important. Our previous security of supply formula had a v high threshold. Whe you take out two sources can you make peak demand at all times. That comes at a cost. So independence may have an impact on affordability and environment.
Burford: Do you agree with Chamber of Commerce recommendations to enter a long term supply contract with France and build a direct 100w cable as soon as possible?
De Saus: The electricity strategy is the vehicle through which those considerations can be weighed up. Important to do things in the right order. Not assuming that interconnection is the first step. We will be testing credible scenarios to make a well informed decisions. Othe committees are in the steering group.
Burford: So macro-renewables will be incorporated in that policy letter?
De Saus: Need to define what we mean by low carbon and low emission energy. Then establish what mixes are the most beneficial for the island. That’s why keen to get that done this year to allow for investment decisions.
Burford: Can you narrow down when the strategy will come?
Haskins: Possibility of debate by 23 January, published by end of this year.
WILDLIFE/POLLUTION/ANIMAL WELFARE LEGISLATION
Burford: Progress on legislation to protect wildlife?
De Saus: In the GWP, doing some work at the moment. We don’t have the same wildlife law as other juridictions
Burford: GWP says there will be updated legislation on environmental pollution and animal welfare. Will the deadline of Dec 22 be met?
De Saus: Don’t know, depends on operational resource constraints. Hopeful.
Burford: Historically, environment the poor relation to social and fiscal policy. Do you agree?
De Saus: Historically yes, but scales have tipped in recent times. People more aware of links between economy and environment. Money has always talked loudest. Making up for lost time now.
Matthews: Always seems to be a real constraint on policy resources. Do you have enough?
De Saus: No. We experience it perhaps more acutely than others. We have so few people in relation to the amount and significance of the policy work. We don’t waste any resources doing things that aren’t a priority. Our process is now being rolled out to other committees. End up with workplans. But each workplan needs some of the same people so they are v stretched.
Luxon: In 2014 a previous Public Services Department developed the Island Infrastructure Plan. Had 1.46m of essential infrastructure spend. Not sure how much was invested and that was just essentials. Plus nice to be done. Does balancing your madate give you sleepless nights?
De Saus: Aware I’m in the presence of former Ministers of Environment and of PSD. I’m more optimistic. Lot of infrastructure requirements you can meet while meeting environmental goals. We know we haven’t invested as much as targeted for infrastructure. All the attention usually goes on windfarm and tidal but its the infrastructure to faciltate that on island in terms of the grid has to be one of the most impoartant factors. If we get our infrastructure right we will solve more problems than we create for the future.
Hackley: You don’t develop infrastructure for infrastructure’s sake, you do it to enable other things to happen. Opportunity to work with private sector eg pool marina.
Matthews: Does more need to be done to explain the concepts of the blue and green economy to the public?
De Saus: Yes, definitely. At highest level it’s about things that are mutually beneficially for the environment and the economy. We have a more developed approach to land but don’t have nearly as defined an idea as to how we might best use the marine environment. Tourism, leisure, fishing, marine renewables, marine ecology. First need to understand what we have. Then find the best way to maximise the enviromental and economic benefits. We’re used to the idea of zoning on land but don’t have anything similar for marine environment. Making decisions about what might best go where. Turning to the green economy, the enviromental and associated economic benefits don’t make it onto the balance sheet. When looking at whether to build on green spaces we look at its nominal monetary value but don’t look at its natural capital eg wetlands, mature woodland. Need to develop our natural capital accounts.
Burford: So does that equate to putting a price on nature?
De Saus: Not putting necessarily a monetary value but at the moment the value of nature on the balance sheet is zero. Helps inform decisions about what you are losing. The real value, not just the superficial value.
Burford: There’s been some criticism of that approach in that a developer could pay simply that price and degrade that land. We’re not going down that route?
De Saus: No. Developers welcome this approach because it provides greater clarity and certainty. It means you can say that a green field site has a greater value than just its monetary one and you can put policies in place to protect it. Have to reinterate, at the moment the economic value of nature is zero. Not about saying you can carry on as usual if you pay a bit more money, its about shaping that range of options in the first place.
Luxon: There’s been talk of a Guernsey Eden Blue?
De Saus: Had a briefing yesterday on green jobs. One of Guernsey’s biggest opportunity is green tourism. Good at featuring our natural enviroment in posters but not as good at the stuff beneath that level.
Matthews: For green finance, does Guernsey need to walk the walk?
De Saus: Yes. We position ourselves as a green and sustainable finance centre. We are a member of a quite elite body called the UNFC4S – finance centres for sustainability. We are the only Crown Dependency to be a member. We’re quite innovative, a couple of world firsts. Not just green products, its a one stop shop systemic approach. It’s the whole product. It’s where the future of finance is headed. Let’s not forget we have good examples of what we do well eg our waste strategy, we are an example of best practice, 11% reduction in overall waste. Really important that we don’t run the risk of greenwash. That’s the number one bit of feedback from finance industry. Our good approach to invasive and non-native species is recognised beyond our borders and people learn from us. We also have areas we definitely need to improve.
Matthews: Is that connection well understood? People might think our enviromental policy might not make a big difference globally.
De Saus: No as much as it should be, I agree. Don’t think it’s recognised to the degree it should be by the political body either.
Matthews: GWP mentiones a blue economy supporting plan. Has that workstream started?
De Saus: It’s in the early stages. Work is underway.
Matthews: Are those plans going to be subject to consultation and awareness raising?
De Saus: We have very close connections with the environmental community anyway. Biodiveristy Partnership Group brings together third sector stakeholders. those groups include experts in their field so although we don’t have lots of different areas of expertise in house we do have really good access to local experts and we’ll bring in expertise from beyond our shores if required.
Matthews: Has the natural capital pilot, mentioned in the blue economy supporting plan, started?
De Saus: Two aspects – blue and green. Originally the plan was to do the blue aspect first but we have a new director of natural environment and one his first tasks was to review our priorities and I believe there may be some suggestions about how we can progress that workstream more efficiently.
Barrett: That will come through the refresh of the GWP. Seeing if we can bring forward elements of the green economy support plan that can be brought forward and delivered at the same time as the similar piece in the blue economy support plan.
Matthews: How will need for housing dovetail with the blue/green support plans, nature strategy and nature commission?
De Saus: Biodiversity net gain is a more specific planning-related framework. Adopted in the UK and other places. Looking to pilot it. Some developers already beginning to pilot it voluntarily. If going to develop an area that was underdeveloped, you are going to be taking things away. Idea of biodiversity net gain is that is not just compensating elsewhere but over time there is a net gain, you end up with more value. Can’t just look at the land area in vergees, also have to look at the habitats and ecology. Two of our biggest problems in terms of biodiversity value are under-management and over-management of land. So if we manage land better we can get far greater enviromental value out of it. Developers welcome it because it derisks the process, and associated cost. Rather than all hell breaking loose over a particular green area, developers know what they are dealing with upfront. Know that if there is biodiversity loss, know not to go near it or to overcompensate.
Luxon: Businesses want certainty but also have significant responsibilities for ESG. Business coming more towards government.
De Saus: Couldn’t agree more. Helps relationships with the community too. Gives community assurance that their concerns are recognised.
Matthews: Does how visible the green area is to the public make a difference?
De Saus: You’re right to point to the social value of land. Aesthetic value, mental health and wellbeing of being near a green space. The ability to protect areas of green land was recognised in the original IDP. Wasn’t as much awareness, hope that will be given greater awareness in the IDP review. More important than initially recognised in the original consultation.
Burford: Will the role of your committee be affected by the Development Agency?
De Saus: It can’t not affect us. Pleased the first priority of the DA is that strategic direction. Will have a fundamental impact on our mandate. Has been difficult to progress anything macro in recent history because can’t compromise future possible options.
Hackley: The DA is a delivery mechanism. It’s for the States, through the approval of the strategic direction, to set where the priorities are.
Burford: Suggestion in debate that the States should get out of the way of the DA, but also reference to cutting procedures and policies that can slow development. You wouldn’t support that?
De Saus: Personally, I would refer you to Mr Hackley’s comments about it being a delivery vehicle, strategic decisions sit with the States. If the DA can act as a body that better co-ordinates engagement with the community and other stakeholders, with a greater focus on moving things along, without cutting corners, then fantastic.
Burford: So the DA will still need to accord with the policies and procedures of the States, even though it’s at arms length?
De Saus: No other option. Even as the States we can’t override planning laws.
Hackley: Policy letter said to no introduction of further States control than are already in place.
Burford: When is the Nature Commission going to be formed?
De Saus: Well underway, well advanced. Have made all of the decisions, we’re at the point where some of the legal i’s are being dotted. Very excited about the opportunities it presents.
Barrett: We’re actually ahead of schedule.
Burford: How do you anticipate the membership will be populated?
De Saus: There’s an interim board. That board will recruit the full board. Focus on ensuring there’s a good balance of representation.
Burford: Will it work along similar lines to the Arts Commission?
De Saus: Health Improvement Commission might be a closer model. Vehicle through which the States can provide some funding and it can attract external funding.
Burford: What powers will it hold?
De Saus: A lot of the Commission’s role can be around education and co-ordinating. Bringing different bodies and areas of expertise together.
Burford: The Commission doesn’t have any direct power on influencing policy?
De Saus: No, it’s an independent arms length body and will advise E&I.
Matthews: In practical terms what impact does COP26 and the extension of Paris Agreement to Guernsey have?
De Saus: Don’t see any conflicts with our current policies. The main benefit is it shows we takes our international obligations seriuosly, can amplify green finance, provides greater focus and frameworks to make that progress more efficient.
Matthews: What is the global islands partnership?
De Saus: GLISPA recognises that islands have specific environmental considerations and different practical challenges than bigger jurisdictions. Sharing and benefitting from best practice. We’ve been informally involved for quite some time.
Matthews: Is it Crown Dependencies or just other small islands?
De Saus: Real mixture. Not restricted to the Commonwealth.
Matthews: Have we made any progress on on-island transport since your last update?
De Saus: Yes. We spend £60k a week on maintenance of our roads. Can’t overlook the importance of business as usual. Most significant thing we can deliver this States term will be the step change on transport in order to deliver on housing.
Matthews: Can you give a couple of examples of how changes to transport could reduce our carbon emissions?
De Saus: Say transport and people automatically think of wheels and vehicles and think that EVs will solve it all. But that’s not the case. Our climate change policy takes into account Scope 1 emissions and Scope 3 emissions so includes the embedded carbon in the production phase of vehicles. We need to be focusing, first and foremost, on low energy and energy efficient means of transport. So many symbiotics benefits. Transport is at the intersection of housing, cost of living crisis, climate change, health, population. Solutions that work for climate change help with all the other aspects. Shared mobility is an important ‘bridge’ mechanism. It’s not practical for everyone to walk or take the bus.
Matthews: Our small road network limits ability to put cycle lanes or pavements in. Is that a constraint?
De Saus: Agree, we have granite-hemmed roads. But expanding roads doesn’t help, adding lanes just makes everything worse. We need to look at how we use the space we have efficiently. Island-appropriate solutions. Helpful talking with Jersey. Example: one of the barriers to walking is people feel it’s not safe enough. Lots of lanes here with no pavement. If not a lot of traffic, Jersey put in poles far enough apart that vehicles can pull in. Stops pavement surfing.
Matthews: I was talking about adding cycle lanes rather than traffic lanes.
De Saus: Biggest barrier for people riding bikes is they don’t like mixing with motor traffic. There are sometimes options to reorganise how we manage that space. Example: Baubigny. One way contraflows were heavily opposed, assumed less convenient. Some residents now admit it’s more convenient, don’t have to reverse.
Matthews: Could we do more of that?
De Saus: Certainly. I spoke in the first half about mobility and network planning. A safe walking route is only as safe as its weakest link. Contunuity and connectedness is really important.
Luxon: Is there scope for the encouragement of higher levels of locally grown food?
De Saus: Speaking personally, don’t think anyone would argue with more locally grown products. Nutritional value, food miles, local economy, resilience. However, also important to look from a broader perspective. as an island we haven’t been self sufficient for several centuries. But we could be more food independent. Pollinator Project brought Dave Goulson over a few years ago and he pointed out that allotments tended to be far more productive than commercially farmed land. More diversity, not just a monoculture.
Burford: Are you content with current operation of the bus contract?
De Saus: Contract has delivered £300k of savings for E&I so successful in that respect. Main challenge is drivers. Looking at a range of options to alleviate the situation.
Burford: Outside of that, are numbers rising?
De Saus: Up until Covid, year on year increases to record levels. 2019 was just shy of 2 million passenger journeys. Helps to be consistent. So we’re careful to ensure as great a reliability as we can. Hence focus on drivers.
Burford: What progress towards an electric fleet?
De Saus: We are in the third phase of the bus replacement programme. Frustratingly, up until recently there wasn’t a bus that met our three Guernsey criteria – width, capacity, range. Happy to say that technology has evolved and there are now models on the general marketplace. One was brought over to trial. Committee has tried it out but we don’t get involved in the operational detail.
Hackey. Progressing well. Just testing whether the product we can purchase is as good as the demo vehicle.
Burford: Next hearing is 26th April with the Development and Planning Authority.