Finding the positives in a ‘harmful’, ‘alien’ and ‘grossly out of scale’ plan

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THAT Jersey’s Health Minister can put such a positive gloss on planners throwing out his half-a-billion-pounds hospital says a lot about him.

You could laud Senator Andrew Green for being an eternal optimist. Or you could damn him for having his head in the sand. You could say he’s right to be praising his project team for coming up with a scheme an independent inquiry described as ‘harmful’, ‘alien’ and ‘grossly out of scale’. Or you could feel the urge to send him for a check-up from the neck-up for standing by those who’ve spent millions so far on something clearly so unfit for purpose.

But, as the journalistic cliché goes, we are where we are.

And that’s at a point where the next General Election can easily be measured in days and weeks, rather than months, with a hospital project about to head into its third parliament, and quite possibly its third Health Minister.

It’s been a funny old week for the government. On Monday, the Chief Minister put forward plans to scrap collective responsibility, the rule that forces the top table to act like nodding dogs in public, just four years after the same politician argued so strongly to introduce it.

The upside of Senator Ian Gorst’s push to untie the gags from his team’s mouths is it’ll give them the freedom to speak openly about the hospital farce.

That Jersey needs a new hospital is a given.

That the staff working to deliver health care deserve better facilities in which to treat patients is another given.

That the Health Minister and his Future Hospital team are so out of touch with both public opinion and the opinions of an independent planning inspector and the Planning Minister is now, surely, also a given.

The long and winding road to this point began with Deputy Anne Pryke (last parliament) unveiling her twin-site masterplan for a new hospital. At the start of this parliament, her successor in the guise of Senator Green pledged to bin her ideas and come up with something more suitable. And in precisely eighteen weeks from now we will wake up the morning after the General Election with a clearer idea of whether it’ll be Senator Green or his successor who’ll be sitting on a project that’s already spent at least £17 million, including £10 million on external consultants, without a brick being laid.

Our Council of Ministers, with or without collective responsibility, now need to be honest with themselves and the Future Hospital team in the wake of the planning inspector’s report, and acknowledge publicly that they got this one wrong.

I’m sure we’ll hear stock phrases such as ‘these things happen with planning inquiries’ and ‘the report didn’t say the site was the wrong site’. But read the report, and the ministerial decision around it carefully. For the site to work will need a complete rethink, rather than a bit of tinkering. That means, inevitably, millions more in fees, and just 125 days until the General Election to make things happen.

The prognosis for a speedy recovery looks slim.

ANYHOW, that’s more than enough of the glass half empty stuff. We should also celebrate the good stuff.

There were a few letters in this paper earlier this week slagging off Visit Jersey’s winter tourism campaign which encourages holidaymakers to enjoy the windswept and rain-soaked coast and cliff walks, snuggle up in a cosy pub, and make the most of shopping in town.

The naysayers who laugh at the idea of visiting the Island at this time of year miss the point. They don’t realise how lucky they are to live here already. Those who say ‘there’s nothing to do’ need to breathe in the air around them, go for a walk along the coast (yes, even in the wind and rain) and remind themselves how invigorating it is.

For those looking for a short hop from the UK to escape city life, Jersey is an idyll.

And, in the week we see air passenger numbers are at their highest level for 18 years… yes, you read that correctly: 18 years, the brilliant work being done to promote Jersey to visitors seems to be having some effect.

Right. That’s me done. Off for a wintery yomp.

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