Report and photos by David Nash
EXTRA seating had to brought in to the meeting room of the Island Hall when more than 60 residents turned up to question the States embers over the Billet d’Etat for the full States’ assembly to be held in the courthouse on Wednesday 19th May 2020.
Once the routine items like COVID restrictions and a minor change to allow extra emergency policing measures were read and greeted with little comment, the main issue of the evening “Item 4” concerning the termination of the Alderney Bird Observatory’s (ABO) tenancy at the Nunnery triggered a heated debate.
Convenor Boyd Kelly, who is Chairman of the States’ General Services Committee made it clear that under the rules of procedure, only items related directly to the Billet wording and proposal would be permitted in the Part One of the meeting where civil servants recorded the comments.
He deflected several questions to the Open Forum second part of the meeting as being ‘side issues’.
The room appeared to be polarised into two halves.
Supporters of the Alderney Wildlife Trust, the Alderney Society and the accommodation sector outnumbered the ABO group and much of the debate appeared to be about the taxpayers’ subsidy to the new birders’ organization in the form of a peppercorn rent for the Nunnery hostel and the payment of the warden’s salary as a States’ employee. The States has also sacked the ABO warden John Horton.
Presenting the case for the ABO, former States members Neil Harvey and Norma Paris who both questioned the accuracy of the Billet Item 4 as published. They backed up their assertions with facts, figures and dated documentary evidence that highlighted flaws in the proposition prepared by civil servants.
Mr Kelly was clearly uncomfortable when it was pointed out that no actual lease had been signed and the document in question was a tenancy agreement which still constituted a contract between the States and the ABO. Mr Harvey said basically all his team wanted was to have a meaningful discussion with the Policy and Finance Committee about how the ABO would continue to operate.
Mrs Paris re-inforced the ABO’s case together with the warden John Horton that the international fame of the Alderney Observatory had generated hundreds of thousand of pounds of free publicity and this far exceeded the value of any benefit in kind that the States gave to the charity.
States Members (From left ) Ian Carter, Bill Abel and Boyd Kelly talked about terminating the ABO lease at the Open Forum of the Peoples’ meeting in the Island Hall.
Speaking on behalf of the ABO, their Chair Helen McGregor made it clear that a considerable number of pre-booked birdwatchers had reservations for the four dormitory bedrooms in the months ahead and she questioned the way the States of Alderney planned to operate the Nunnery Hostel when the proposed three months’ notice was up.
In the Billet item Bill Abel , Chairman of Policy & Finance Committee was proposing that the States was looking to recover some of the capital outlay on the Nunnery renovation work by seeking a “commercially-based lease”.
The Nunnery: Roman Fort at Longis, currently home to the Alderney Bird Observatory
This appeared to backfire when a member of the audience stated that perhaps the States should start looking at some of the assets it already controlled like Whitegates social housing, the old Connaught home, the old Fire Station and the wrecked Fort Tourgis before it started on grabbing back the Nunnery building. A great cheer of approval went round the entire room.
The subject appears to be now in limbo and the States Members will probably need to take a much ‘deeper dive’ into the whole subject of the legalities of the agreements and tenancy arrangements before the meeting on May 19th when the Billet will be debated. The Birders say they just want to have a business -related meeting with Policy and Finance Committee as a whole which they have been denied up to now to plan a way forward until at least the end of 2021.
Further information on the Alderney Bird Observatory and its activities, including recent rare bird sightings, is available on the website www.alderneybirdobservatory.org or by email from firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Horton can be contacted on 07815.549191.
As Alderney’s official bird recorders they especially want to hear from anyone spotting an unusual or different species of bird on the island.
Some of the key members of the ABO team at the Peoples’ Meeting.
Norma Paris Neil Harvey ABO Warden John Horton ABO Chair, Helen McGregor