Guernsey Harbour is the true Jewel in the Crown.
Upgraded more than 150 years ago, it was a controversial and monumental project of its time. The new development reclaimed land and built the Castle emplacement that joined the castle to the shore and the St Julian’s emplacement that did the same for White Rock. This was further extended in the 1970s and 1980s to include the North Beach car park and the QE2 Marina.
The Harbour has remained the heart of our town, and it is vital to all of us as our sea connectivity, freight importation, tourism, recreation and maritime services. It has kept development of Town connected with its maritime roots and has ensured that the core look and feel of Town has been preserved, in contrast to other places. However, with no new development in more than 30 years, the harbour is looking tired and the question is whether to make purely cosmetic changes or something more significant.
In my view, it’s time to be bold and make the hopes of those that want to see a sympathetic but ambitious development of the harbour a reality.
Do we really need it?
Thanks to my work on the board of Guernsey Ports, I can whole-heartedly say that the answer is a resounding YES.
Islanders of today and generations to come will benefit from development, making the harbour fit for purpose for the 21st century and beyond.
The level of maintenance and repair required to keep the Harbour was estimated to be £35 million by an independent engineering firm. This is not something that can be put off forever, and the cost will only increase in real terms as the years roll on and the fabric of the harbour deteriorates. Given the need for large investment, why not make sure we invest in new facilities, not just shore up the old?
The existing facilities do not meet the commercial, recreation and fishing demands of islanders and business, and investment would provide an option for substantial growth of the Blue Economy, businesses providing products and services on the basis of our marine environment.
There is significantly more demand for berths than can be currently met.
The commercial port is highly congested both on land and on the water – the presence of big boats in the harbour is a safety hazard to sailors, especially youngsters learning their craft on dinghies.
The terminal and visitor facilities such as shower blocks are dated and a very poor welcome for marine tourists and lack opportunities to have shops, cafes and retail.
Buildings rented to commercial clients are in poor condition but businesses are unwilling to invest long-term because they are not sure about what the future harbour may bring.
Dated buildings such as the White Rock complex, occupy prime real estate, which could be used for multiple projects such as an Art Gallery, that can provide an important multiplier effect for the tourism economy.
So, what is the situation with regards to addressing these issues right now?
The future of the Harbour lays largely on the decision the next States will have to make as to where the Commercial Port facilities should go, in other words where the “big boats” are best positioned to serve the island.
If the States decides to relocate the Commercial Port somewhere else, then a large part of the Harbour can be opened up for redevelopment to meet islanders’ needs.
The thought of major developments will of course be a natural cause for concern for islanders. There is a risk that the development could take away from the essence of St Peter Port, that is loved by residents and visitors alike. There is the concern that development may result in ugly tall buildings and that newer facilities could affect existing commerce in town. The example of our near neighbours is perhaps a cautionary tale.
It is essential that such concerns are taken into account and that the public is actively involved and engaged in the future visioning for St Peter Port and that the entire process is transparent and accountable.
Last but not least we have the question of capital funding and development.
Long-term infrastructure projects are typically funded by borrowing and paid off by the income generated over the life-time of the asset, and in an environment of low interest rates there is no reason why the returns from investment cannot comfortably cover the costs of funding. So we should not expect that any harbour development would come at the long term expense of the tax-payer, but an element of Government involvement that reduces the cost of funding is to everyone’s benefit.
Equally important in the short term, and arguably more important for the long term success of any major infrastructure project, is that a project of this magnitude requires a proper governance structure, with the requisite expertise and the authority to run the development. This cannot be provided within a political committee structure. A Seafront Development Corporation, similar to the way that the London Docklands Development Corporation spearheaded the regeneration of East London, drawing on the best public and private sector expertise, could be one way of managing it.
The option of doing nothing is simply not an option anymore.
This is the reason my manifesto highlights the need for investment into infrastructure and progressing Harbour redevelopment.