Vinery tax would focus the mind
Thursday 21st February 2013, 3:00PM GMT.
A CORRESPONDENT in today’s Press letters section makes some interesting observations about how to ease the island’s housing shortage and deal with what many consider to be the eyesore of derelict and redundant vinery sites.
But whether his proposals or something similar are the right way forward actually begs a more fundamental question: how developed an island does this community wish to become?
That also raises the issue of what the point of that development might be. Releasing more land won’t, for instance, see more houses built. There are already more permits issued than there are foundations being dug.
Instead, the right sort of site could attract high net worth individuals and much-needed inward investment. It could also be used to develop new business, new jobs and new tax revenues.
Does Guernsey have such an interventionist approach? Apart from allowing massive hangars on virgin fields for dubious reasons, most would say not. And the deliberate relaxation of greenfield planning restrictions for economic purposes – look at the controversy over the encroachment of the airport into St Peter’s pastures – is not something that the States does lightly.
Where, however, there is an immediate benefit in looking at vinery sites is in speeding up their return to their original state, open fields.
Our correspondent says this cannot be done other than by incentivising property owners. The problem, however, is that with housing plots changing hands for hundreds of thousands of pounds, the current incentive is to see the area become as decrepit as possible in the hope of winning the jackpot when Environment says yes, you may build a clos there.
Unused horticultural sites should carry a penal property tax rate that can be avoided only by removing the traces of their previous use and returning them to the fields that they were, which was the deal the States struck at the time.
Not only would that raise much-needed revenues, it would also concentrate minds: Am I a speculator willing to commit my cash in the hope of a housing development bonanza or the custodian of an open space?
And when the sites are cleared, islanders will know what appetite they really have for green field development.
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