As the Société Jersiaise and National Trust for Jersey joined forces to publish the first register of its kind in the Island, former government assistant director for design and conservation Stuart Fell urged Environment Minister John Young to use the full extent of his powers under the Planning Law to prevent the loss of irreplaceable heritage assets.
‘It’s a misconception to think that the listing of a building means that the owner must keep it in good order, but the corollary of that is that most planning authorities in the UK have powers to intervene if they think a building of interest is being neglected.
‘In Jersey there are powers in the Planning Law to deal with property which is causing a nuisance or which for some other reason ought to be dealt with,’ Mr Fell said.
Following a similar initiative by Historic England more than 30 years ago, the new register aims to provide basic information about listed buildings in Jersey which display obvious signs of vacancy, neglect or deterioration.
‘Sometimes the abandonment or neglect of buildings is due to the unfortunate personal circumstances of the property owner, but it is more often due to poor property management,’ Mr Fell said.
Mr Fell said he believed that Jersey’s natural and man-made environment made the Island a very special place, with heritage buildings contributing not only to the community’s sense of wellbeing but also providing reasons for visitors to come here.
‘The careful husbandry of this valuable heritage is clearly important, and the government and wider community each have a significant role to play. The government, through its Environment Minister and planning officers, has obligations to safeguard the natural and man-made environment, and to balance the often-competing demands of conservation and development,’ Mr Fell said.
Three of the buildings in the register’s first tranche of properties are owned by the government – La Folie Inn and South Pier House at the old Harbour, and one building outside St Helier, St Saviour’s Hospital. The others are properties at 4 and 12 Simon Place, the St Saviour’s Road town house Sans Souci, and brewery buildings in Ann Street.
Publication of the buildings-at-risk register, shortly to be available on the Société Jersiaise’s website, is the latest example of Jersey’s heritage organisations working together to try to safeguard the Island’s historic environment, following the controversial recent demolition of listed buildings in Bath Street.
Jersey Heritage is prevented from speaking publicly on listed buildings because of its official involvement in the listings process, but National Trust for Jersey president Stewart Newton strongly welcomed their involvement in the new register.
‘My personal view is that it’s important that the more interesting key buildings in the Island are protected. We’ve got housing issues which have to be dealt with, so we’ve got to consider what’s required from the economic standpoint, while at the same time maintaining attractive historic buildings. We don’t want St Helier just to be seen as a modern town,’ Mr Newton said.
Describing the new register as a ‘useful tool’, Mr Fell said that it was intended to provide information for those who value the heritage of the Island, and for those who have a duty to protect it, whether as owners or guardians of the public interest.
‘It’s ultimately a matter of political choice. Do you give equal weight to heritage, history, tourism, and the quality of the Island – not just for visitors but for residents because historic buildings add to the amenity of the place – as you do to the need for more housing?’ he asked.
Mr Fell added that it was not a matter of keeping all historic buildings but of finding a better balance when providing new development.