At the end of a calm summer’s day in St Brelade’s Bay, birdsong drifts over its pale, soft, sand towards its sheltered, glossy, seawater.
The charm of this south-facing seaside resort, with its sunbeds and peach-coloured granite cliffs, draws visitors across the Island as well as many tourists. Legend suggests its church, with its gables and turret, was built by magic. The Bay’s historic Conway Tower also echoes and blends into the Bay’s natural contours and colours.
A scenic backdrop of trees provides a habitat for many squirrels and songbirds, despite a 1999 planning document characterising the Bay as ‘dune land’.
Shortly after the Great Hurricane (Oct 1987) destroyed many of the Island’s trees, Jersey’s planners worked with local community representatives to produce an environmental protection plan for the Bay. Its design guidelines helped the Bay’s newer buildings to support and improve its sense of place. The plan deliberately sought to make the Bay less rugged than St Ouen’s Bay by recommending the planting of lots of trees.
Ten years ago, the States Assembly was alarmed by the draft Island Plan having designated most of the Bay for maximum building development, for planning policy purposes. The Assembly sought to continue the ‘spirit’ of the 1989 plan. The wording of the last-minute amendment was inadequate. An English planning inspector, while hearing the appeal against the refusal of the Wayside planning application, asked Jersey’s Director of Planning what the word ‘spirit’ meant. The Director responded with a look of confusion. The plan was a ‘ghost’, he offered.
Both Islanders and visitors have deplored the style and scale of buildings recently constructed in the Bay. Imposing boxy palaces shout ‘look at me’, rather than ‘be relaxed by the landscape setting’. Trees keep being felled to provide a few wealthy individuals with private views of the Bay.
Six years ago, a Parish Deputy called a public meeting to seek support for the Bay being designated as Coastal National Park in the Island Plan, to provide it with the highest available protection against over-development.
I had a low profile, as a retired lawyer who was resident in the Bay, but a sense of justice led me to stand before the meeting. I explained most of the Bay’s residents didn’t want the current planning trend to continue. Many consider themselves guardians of its landscape.
The vote in favour was unanimous, but my involvement didn’t end there. Someone from the Parish Hall asked if I could represent the Bay’s residents at a planning policy meeting. The Director of Planning Policy informed the Parish Deputy the Bay’s tourist development made the Coastal National Park policy, as drafted, inappropriate for the Bay. The English planning inspectors presiding asked why a local development plan already voted for the Bay had not materialised.
Later that year, the States Assembly supported imposing building restrictions on the Bay’s shoreline strip. The drafting was compromised to support the Bay’s hotels. Four years later, it provided a loophole. The result of the Wayside appeal was that the former Minister for the Environment allowed two massive luxury houses to be built on the seafront, on a site leased by a popular restaurant and three other tourist businesses. This was despite all six States Members on the Planning Committee having rejected the application.
I was informed of another meeting and became Chairman of a Parish working party. It challenged a proposal presented to the group as being ‘in the context’ of the proposed local development plan. The group sought to advance the plan itself. The former Minister for the Environment announced to the States Assembly the working party had been uncooperative. If the group wanted to change planning policy for the Bay, he said, it would have to wait until the Island Plan was reviewed in 2020, following government processes.
The group became the St Brelade’s Bay Association (SBBA), a Bay planning watchdog and campaign group. I became its Chairman, denouncing undemocratic processes.
Two years ago, the former Parish Deputy became Minister for the Environment, constrained by those same government processes. The SBBA has worked with them too. A public consultation earlier this year supported directing development away from the Bay. Current government proposals don’t.
In response, the SBBA has launched a petition for improved planning protection for the Bay. The States Assembly needs to consider the matter before the wheel turns full circle, before the ghost of the 1989 Plan no longer is visible in the Bay.
Birdsong is produced by simple creatures protecting their territory. If Islanders are willing to perform the simple action of signing the petition, a very special area, designed for public enjoyment, may be better protected too.
A link to the online petition to improve planning protection for St Brelade’s Bay can be found at http://stbrelade.com
By Mary Scott