I championed the rights of Jersey homeowners against unjust fines levied retrospectively on their properties, successfully persuading the States to introduce a clear boundary map and a consistent policy position on previously-approved encroachments.
The Foreshore – protecting homeowners AND the public purse
In 2015 the Crown gifted the States of Jersey the rights to the foreshore – the land between the high and low tide marks – in order to facilitate renewable energy projects. A few weeks later, a number of homeowners began being hit with ‘unjust, oppressive and improperly discriminatory’ fines (the words of the States of Jersey Complaints Board) for encroachments on this land. In many cases, these encroachments had occurred decades earlier, and had been approved by the Planning department.
While the Foreshore was owned by the Crown, the States were prepared to give planning permissions, convey properties, oversee contracts being passed in the Royal Court and collect Stamp Duty. Yet 62 working days after the People of Jersey received Her Majesty’s gift, the Department of Infrastructure set about ‘going after’ Her Majesty’s Subjects for encroachments they had previously approved and profited from.
This action was pursued so soon after receipt of the Gift, there was not even time for a proper policy to be in place. Nor was there even an agreed map! Scores of people were terribly affected, even in some cases having to leave the Island.
Let me be clear: I am not in favour of Jersey’s unique coastline being spoiled by new development. But there is something deeply unfair about the state levelling aggressive, retrospective fines on ordinary people who are not at fault. There was also a huge risk to the public purse, as the Government had not properly examined its legal position – especially with respect to the five ancient fiefs adjoining the land. Nor had it priced in the cost of lawyers, conveyancers, professional valuers, negotiators and civil servants required to determine boundaries, titles and case-by-case fines.
As the Law Society CEO told a Scrutiny Panel in 2021, the legal profession was ‘still at a loss to understand how the Public actually benefits in real terms from the aggressive approach taken.’
I am proud to say I fought and won a battle against the government position, which was being championed by then-CEO Charlie Parker, and successfully persuaded the States to introduce a clear boundary map and develop a consistent policy position. We must protect our unique coastline, but not at the expense of the rule of law.