Open Letter: The Quality of the Public Realm
Thursday 7 December 10:54
The Minister for the Environment is sending an open letter to all public services and utility providers in relation to the quality of the public realm.
Dear Public Services or Utility Provider
The Quality of the Public Realm
The public realm is made up of our parks and green areas, our pavements and footpaths, our squares and open spaces, our roads, streets and lanes. The public realm is the conduit which links together our places of work, the places we live, and the places we visit and where we spend our leisure time.
Everyone on our island uses the public realm every day. The quality of the public realm influences what we think and what we feel about a place. We are all uplifted by good places, and good design. Conversely, however, we are also negatively affected when our public spaces are not treated properly, are cluttered, or are not designed appropriately.
I was pleased to receive the recent report from Save Jersey’s Heritage entitled “This Realm of Ours”. Subsequent to that I have also had conversations with my officers, interested islanders and other elected States Members, including the Deputy of Grouville about this very issue.
What is clear from all of those conversations is that the way we are treating our spaces, what we put into them and how we modify and change them, is not universally liked or given the consideration it deserves. We have, and continue to have, far too many incidents of poorly designed signs, poor lighting, inappropriately located street furniture and inconsiderate clutter.
This has once again recently come to the fore with the erection of a security fence around Gibraltar Rock at St Catherine’s, and the installation of a power point into our newly created piece of public realm at Charing Cross. These two incidents, amongst others, have highlighted to me that we can, indeed we must, do very much better.
In this open letter today, I want to say very clearly that I want things to improve. I want our public services and utility providers to have a lot more thought in their actions. I want them to treat our public realm as if it were their own personal properties, their own driveways, their own front gardens, their own homes. I know that some discussion has taken place within Government, and there is a desire to do things better. However, recent examples show we are, in some cases, still a very long way from getting things right.
As a result I am considering regulating our public realm again, and I am looking at removing permitted development rights which currently enable our providers of public services and utilities to erect signs, fences, lighting and other street furniture, without planning permission. This is a big step. It will create more planning applications, and it will mean changes to current utility practice. However, before I go further with this, I want a formal conversation with our public service and utility providers about their role and responsibility concerning Jersey’s public realm.
In January I will be holding a half day conference with these providers, along with other interested parties, including elected States members and Save Jersey’s Heritage, so that we can work together for a better solution. If this is successful, it may prevent me regulating, something I would prefer not to do. I am therefore today sending a strong message to those who own and make decisions about the quality of our public realm to start thinking about better behaviour and design, so that we can make the January conference a successful one.
It is vital that we make changes and progress on this matter as the quality of the public realm affects us all. I hope to be in a position soon to be investing into our public realm by way of the Jersey Infrastructure Levy. This is money from the uplift of development value, which will be directly invested into improving our public realm. This is about the spaces in which we walk and cycle, the spaces where our children play, the spaces in which we sit and contemplate and the spaces which provide the landscape and green lungs for our towns and parish centres. This investment is a significant step forward for the island, and we cannot therefore undermine it by unthinking, and inconsiderate behaviour of those who manage and shape what our public realm looks and feels like.
I look forward to the discussion and the delivery of an effective solution to this important challenge.
Public Realm Open Letter