Yesterday I was on of the 'chosen few' to attend a workshop style meeting at the Town Hall on the Future of St Helier. It might seem odd that someone who lives and works in St Ouen should be invited, but it was as a representative of a stakeholder group, as were the other attendees.
The last such States event I attended was Imagine Jersey 2035 . Compared to that event this was rather less prescribed and much more open ended questions were posed. Were were divided into table of six or so for each questions, and each on different tables for three three topics. These topics were: Travel and transport; Urban living and the environment; Identity and community.
I arrived in not too good humour . I have spent an hour in the early morning looking for my cheque book (and failed) so I could run an errand while on one my rare town visits. I also had to ensure I had checked the plant covers, done the watering and updated my online paper before catching the bus. When I arrived there was no name badge for me. I knew this was not going to be an easy day.
We had an introduction from Constable Crowcroft, Environment Minister Luce laid out some criteria, notable when talking of the future we should be mindful of the 20-30years ahead as well as the vision for 2-3 years hence. David Olgivie, the independent facilitator then did some ice-break exercise and elicited a list from the participants of criteria for interaction like listening and courtesy etc.
And then the wall for pro-car sentiment hit us. The topics we each accompanied by the three same questions: What would mater to you and why; what could we change to met what's important to you, If we could only change 2 things, what would they be? That makes sense if you tackle each in turn, which is what I expected the moderator on our table to do. But it wasn't done like that on the first, and really only tried on the last table I was on. A trio of people dominated the input at our table , having come it seemed with their own agenda and list of points to make on traffic and parking , particularly on what could be done. We were told that everyone drives, and residents of St Helier each should have a right to a parking space, like everyone else does. I contradicted those points they were factually incorrect where I could , but there was no means or space to actually make constructive input. When the moderator with just a minute or so left asked each of use what pints we though were the 2, I refused pointing out that my chance to state what was important had not even been made on what matters. Choosing a conclusion form that position is stupidity. This was not well received , but that is the only sensible comment when things had be so poorly moderated the rubric had not been followed.
There was a summing up from all the tables inputting their two main points and so on. From what I could tell from a couple of discussion in the break, carbon emissions, air quality, population fitness, technology changes and home working had barely been raised anywhere. There was a general agreement that a much better bus service is needed.
The second session was more constructive. Again the input was very firmly focussed on the tangible and the built environment. At least there was an opportunity to comment on the importance health wise of open spaces, the possible sea level rises impact and sea defences, and air quality was mentioned by someone else on our table. It got interesting when SOS and SOJDC started on the finance quarter. They seem not even to be able to agree on whether the revised plans mean the road is to be sunk or not. I had the impression it was not to be sunk, thankfully. With the exception of the future of the finance centre buildings, I once again had no sense of the long term thinking and how the world will be different then and how that might influence decisions we can or should make today. In the summing up thankfully the desire for more trees did well!
The final session was on safety, identify, community. We had some agreement that it had identity and community, but that it was more people than places. There was a lot of talk about night time economy being distinct and different from day time economy. There was also some comment on the need for St Helier as the capital to have more autonomy, especially given it is proportionately under representation in the States.
At the summing up there were a few comments from the floor. Notably they included the lack of youth at the event and the need to have them included in thinking of the future (I agree wholeheartedly), and the need to engage with social media. Deputy Luce made concluding remarks, two of which stood out. 90% of us agree on 90% of what was said , and that the next Island Plan will cover the period 2012-2030. While I don't particularly disagree with much of what was said and points raised , I think the minister is in danger of misunderstanding the significance of what was discussed. It was for the most part short term, it lacked significant consideration of how the world will be by that 2021 plan let alone in 30 years time (2045!).
The rapid and still escalating impact and power of computing, the rise of world population and the resource demands to go with that, the change we might expect in working patterns (the extinction of professional middle class knowledge jobs!), sea level rises, food insecurity, energy production, basic material shortages, whole new industrial sectors arising, and other technologies becoming obsolete. It is hard to do , and almost impossible project those things correctly. However is it certain that assuming things will continue more or less as they are now is sure to be way off the reality.