THE Housing Minister has disputed claims – including criticism of a policy development board and that there are a lack of civil servants in the department – made by the former head of Jersey Homes Trust.
Deputy Russell Labey said given the issue of housing was ‘so crucial to so many’, it was ‘important to deal in truth not fiction’. He denied that the Housing Policy Development Board was part of a ‘proliferation of bodies who have an involvement in housing’, as retiring JHT chairman Michael Van Neste said in an interview with the JEP on Saturday, after he announced his departure from the trust.
Deputy Labey said the board had ceased to exist a year ago, after completing its work.
Mr Van Neste has called on the minister to be ‘far more aggressive’ in his dealings with ministerial colleagues to address the Island’s housing crisis. Deputy Labey agreed with Mr Van Neste that the release of government sites for housing was ‘vital’, adding that he promised action before the end of 2021 and announced five sites in December, including St Saviour’s Hospital and the old Les Quennevais School.
Despite holding Mr Van Neste in ‘high regard’, Deputy Labey said stating that the Housing Minister had no full-time civil servants attached to the department was wrong, adding that a new ‘head of strategic housing and regeneration’ post was created and appointed in September.
And responding to a claim from Mr Van Neste that ‘he gets officers seconded from Treasury to assist him but he has no staff, no chief executive, no expertise in his own department and housing is a very complex issue’, Deputy Labey said it was officers from Customer and Local Services and Strategic Policy, Planning and Performance that worked for him, who he labelled ‘exceptional’ and key to prioritising housing.