Public Consultation and the development of an effective solid waste strategy

September 26th, 2010 by Peter Roffey

What should our tax strategy be? Or our waste strategy? Should new building go in the urban area or be spread around the island? Should bonfires be banned?

The Guernsey public is being consulted almost weekly on decisions – big and small – facing the States of Deliberation. In many ways that is a very good thing. Our deputies are elected to govern on our behalf and should take notice of what we think. The question is whether the results of such consultation should be the clinching factor in making decisions or just one consideration amongst many.

As far as rubbish disposal is concerned the deputy minister of Public Services is in no doubt. Deputy Scott Ogier is determined the new strategy, due before the States next spring, must be one which the public is happy with. His stance is that politicians and their expert advisors have twice devised solutions which proved impossible to sell to large numbers of islanders. This time around the approach will be different. First the PSD will find out what is publically acceptable and then design a strategy around it.

We’ll consider whether that eminently reasonable sounding approach can really work in practise in a moment. First let’s look at Deputy Ogier’s own involvement in the saga of Guernsey’s still unresolved waste disposal saga. Stopping the Lurgi incinerator seemed to be his main policy when he was first elected as a St. Sampson’s representative in 2004. He was rapidly catapulted to political prominence when he succeeded in doing just that.

Deputy Scott Ogier after the massburn incinerator was rejected by the Guernsey States of Deliberation (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Those responsible for picking up the pieces and devising a new strategy decided he should play his part in that piece of work. There’s a famous American political saying about the advantages of having your potential opponents inside your tent facing out, rather than outside facing in. Unfortunately it can’t be repeated verbatim in a family newspaper.

When the new proposals to buy a waste management facility, including an incinerator, from the French firm Suez came to the House Deputy Ogier was a very strong supporter. Indeed there’s little doubt that his speech was a telling factor in the debate and helped secure the proposals a far more decisive vote in favour than anybody had really expected.

A few months later he had a major change of heart. Despite the ringing States endorsement of the Suez proposal a significant section of the public felt it was the wrong path to go down. They organised a very effective campaign gathering in a broad church of opponents. The anti-Suez lobby included those against incineration per-se, those who wanted to send our rubbish to Jersey to be burned, and those who believed in a magic box to be provided by a local businessman. Together they were unstoppable.

Members of the Guernsey public stand outside the States of Deliberation against the proposed massburner incinerator (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Faced with that tidal wave of opposition Deputy Ogier – formerly a prime advocate of the Suez solution – became a telling opponent. Whether that represents laudable sensitivity to public opinion or just “going wobbly” is open to interpretation. With this track record of putting public sentiment before his own initial judgement it’s no surprise that Deputy Ogier insists that widespread public support must be the main criterion for any new waste strategy. The question is whether that approach is really sustainable in an imperfect world?

Of course it is always far, far, better for the States to take the public with them on big decisions. Democracy is about far more than voting every 4 years. People’s Deputies are just that and govern on our behalf. So any attempt to tap into to public sentiment to help with policy formation is welcome.

On the other hand we elect our deputies to research issues in far greater depth that most of us possibly can in our busy lives. There are some decisions which are unavoidable but inherently unpopular. Some issues where whatever our deputies do will bring howls of protest but where doing nothing is simply not an option. Rubbish disposal is surely one such issue.

We all produce waste and our society has to find a way of getting rid of it. If Scott Ogier and his team can find a solution which really works well and receives public endorsement then “hats off”. But if it’s a choice between an effective solution which upsets some people, or a hugely popular exercise in wishful thinking, then they have to go for the former. Of course deputies should listen to the public but their job is sometimes to lead – however uncomfortable that may be

  1. No Comments

Have your say