When not competing in a triathlon or walking his dog – a
miniature schnauzer called Winston – Jersey’s Deputy Chief
Minister and Economic Development Minister Lyndon
Farnham ponders the political future. James Jeune hears
about some of the bigger challenges facing the Island

‘WHEN I am awake I am either at work or thinking about work, and when I am asleep I
am usually dreaming about it,’ Senator Lyndon Farnham joked, when asked if he ever
found time to ‘switch off’ from his ministerial duties.

‘My mind is always active and I am always communicating with people – it comes with
the territory,’ he added.

With just six months of the current political term remaining, there are a number of
ongoing projects sitting on the Senator’s desk.
Included on that list of ‘unfinished business’ is the £800 million project to build the
new hospital at Overdale – a task he believes presented ‘enormous additional pressure’
for everyone involved.

He said: ‘It is important to say that I am – together with the Our Hospital Political
Oversight Group – now carrying out the instructions of the [States] Assembly.
The Assembly have democratically agreed the location, the access, the budget and it is
our job to see it through. Failure to do so would be, in my opinion, grossly negligent on
future generations. We have done everything we possibly can to present a fully detailed
and comprehensive planning application and have followed a strong, medically led

process all the way through – with a great deal of consultation and communication with
Islanders.’ The decision to build at Overdale has been controversial – with protests
against the proposed Westmount access route, and the site itself still proving
contentious. Earlier this week, a St Helier parish assembly voted to reject the
government’s £6.5m offer for land required for the project, with some parishioners
criticising the tactics used and wanting to send a message to Senator Farnham and his
team. That rejection now means that compulsory purchase will probably be required to
secure the land.

Senator Farnham added: ‘I understand that not everybody will support what we are
doing and I respect their passionately held views. I never anticipated getting total
support, but what I will pledge is that, given the tools to continue, we will finish the job
and complete a very good hospital for Jersey.’ Asked what should be done with the
current Gloucester Street site once the new facility is completed, he said: ‘That whole
area offers huge potential and opportunity for Islanders. I hope we see a very carefully
thought out mixed development that will improve the public realm, increase amenity
space, perhaps explore commercial opportunities and provide much-needed affordable
homes in the area.’ The hospital project is, of course, not the only matter in need of
political oversight.

‘‘ In my opinion [the housing crisis] is the biggest single challenge we face as an Island
With rising Covid-19 case numbers and the presence of the Omicron variant, Senator
Farnham wants to ensure businesses can recover from the impact of the pandemic.
He said: ‘I would hope that we are through the worst of it, but it is unpredictable and a
key priority is to make sure we continue working to support businesses and livelihoods
and to protect the economy.

We will ensure we provide the relevant support to see people through. I have been
amazed by the ingenuity and innovative spirit shown by the businesses over here to get
through it – many of them have restructured and adapted, it has been a fantastic effort.
‘We are still learning about the virus and there are new variants. Early indications are
that while this [Omicron variant] might be more contagious, it might be no more than
that. Our first line of defence now will always be our vaccination and booster
programme, which has been firstclass.

As long as we do that we will be well protected – of course we cannot rule out further
restrictions because we do not know what is around the corner.’ Although large sections
of the economy have been impacted by the pandemic, the last two years have seen the
continued growth of Jersey’s medicinal cannabis industry – which the States have
agreed will be taxed at 20% from 2022.

Senator Farnham said: ‘Jersey has always been very competitive on a global scale and it
is important that we remain competitive so that companies want to invest in Jersey.
‘This new industry will provide new revenue streams and tax income to fund our public
services. We will continue to monitor it as it develops – and we are free to amend how
the taxpayer benefits financially from this sector in the future.’ He added: ‘The Island
has showed vision and a certain amount of courage to take the first step. A lot of
countries and jurisdictions have been thinking about it but have been reluctant to take
that step and start issuing licences. We have now done it and that has gained a lot of
attention globally from businesses, predominantly medicinal and pharmaceutical
businesses.’ In March, the Senator predicted the next two to three years would see a
number of ‘new entrants’ into the medicinal-cannabis industry – and the Island could
start to see some ‘meaningful returns’ within the next three to five years.
He said: ‘We do not want to be the biggest, or the cheapest – we want to set very high
standards and produce a very high-quality product, like we do with our other industries
such as agriculture. We arguably have the best potato in the world, the best dairy
products in the world and a very strong, highly regulated and respected financial
services industry. We will apply the same format to our fledgling medicinal cannabis
industry – there will be other countries that do it in the world, just as there are other
countries that produce milk or potatoes or financial services. We will carve our niche
and aim for quality and reputation.’

Meanwhile, the JEP’s recent series on the housing
crisis showcased the struggles of hundreds of people who had left the Island – or were
thinking about leaving – due to the high property and rental costs.
Senator Farnham said: ‘In my opinion [the housing crisis] is the biggest single
challenge we face as an Island, without any doubt whatsoever. We have a window now
to resolve the issue and I am pleased we are beginning to do it – there is a comprehensive plan in place but we need to build
upon that. It must be the top priority for the next government and, if I am elected and
part of the next government, it will be.’ He added: ‘If we look at this over the medium to
longer term, if [the situation] is not resolved it will have severe social and economic
ramifications. On top of that, it is simply wrong that young Islanders are struggling to
afford housing – it has never been easy, but the aspiration to own a home is becoming
harder to achieve.

We must act before it becomes almost an impossibility.
‘We can never again allow it to slip away from us the way in the way it has done in
recent decades.’ The latest House Price Index showed that the average cost of
properties in the Island had reached £634,000, having grown by £100,000 over the
course of a year.

Senator Farnham said: ‘The key – over and above ensuring we have adequate supply of
course – [is] innovative shared equity and longer-term financing solutions. It needs to
be realistic for people to own, or at least rent, a proper home that is affordable.
We need shared equity options which allow you to buy into your property over a much
longer period of time – we are talking about providing homes for life here.’ He added:
‘It is not just about releasing more sites for development, it is about embracing modern
construction techniques and making sure we get the most productive construction
methods, bearing in mind the huge labour pressures – and inflationary pressures on
the cost of raw materials – off the back of Brexit and the pandemic. So we have to
examine, and the industry is examining, more cost-effective ways of delivering good
quality homes.’

With a busy six months left in office, the Deputy Chief Minister
admitted he is ‘highly likely’ to stand again in next year’s elections due to the
‘unfinished business’ he has including ‘the economic recovery work following Brexit
and the pandemic, and, of course, maintaining the momentum of the new hospital
project’.

‘Dealing with the pandemic, ensuring businesses and livelihoods are protected,
economic recovery work – that all has to be maintained and the hospital project cannot
be allowed to stall. So I think I am highly likely to be standing in the elections and will
be making a final decision early next next year,’ he said.

 

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