Matt Thomas says that it is too early to unveil details about the master plan to develop the port and land around it, but said that it would address several needs, from future-proofing commercial infrastructure to creating more berths for private boats and realising the potential of the land adjacent to the port and harbours.
He also revealed that Ports planned to push ahead with a two-stage project to upgrade the St Helier Marina announced in 2019 as part of ‘the overall Harbour Masterplan’, but which were derailed by Covid-19.
They include the creation of new 24-hour berthing pontoons along the Albert Pier and works to enhance St Helier Marina by replacing ‘aged and unfit-for-use piles and pontoons to ensure the marina remains a safe, open and secure environment for local and visiting mariners’.
A statement released by Ports in October last year outlining the plans said: ‘The work is being carried out in direct response to their [marine users] requests for enhanced berthing opportunities and although it was not planned to take place for another four years due to the overwhelming support from the marine-leisure audience, it has been decided to accelerate the work to start earlier.’
Mr Thomas took up his role in July and replaces Doug Bannister, who resigned from his post for personal reasons. Before coming to Jersey, Mr Thomas was chief executive of the Shannon Group in Ireland, which runs Shannon Airport and has a significant commercial property portfolio.
He said that Mr Bannister had left a strong legacy and that his focus was to ‘unlock the great potential’ of the harbours, marinas and the wider harbour area, including the land around La Folie and the Steam Clock.
Any master plan, he explained, would have to consider several strands, from the future-proofing of the Island’s commercial ports – for passenger services, fuel supplies and freight – to creating a vibrant hub for leisure-marine users, both in terms of berths and complementary on-land services and infrastructure.
‘The exciting thing is that our plans at are a very advanced stage,’ he said. ‘We are absolutely committed to fulfilling our core mission of future-proofing our marine infrastructure.
‘The final product would give Jersey that gateway look which we want it to have. We are absolutely committed to the development of the Harbour.
‘We have a really exciting development plan. We had intended to push on with the redevelopment of the Albert Pier, but then the pandemic came. It not only shut the construction industry but we have been dealing with a host of things that we did not know that we would be dealing with operationally at the Harbour and the Airport.’
He added: ‘The pandemic notwithstanding, and we are not sure what is around the corner and whether there will be a second wave, our intention would be to undertake and complete the [Albert Pier] plan before the start of the summer season next year.’
Mr Thomas explained that, looking further ahead, he understood that there was a need for more berths for Islanders who wanted to keep boats in a St Helier harbour or marina and of the enormous potential in the leisure-marine industry in Jersey with the right investment.
His comments have been welcomed by businessman Andy Lewis, who has the BRIG rib franchise in Jersey. Mr Lewis said that he and others involved in the marine-leisure industry could see the huge potential for Jersey in investing in more affordable berths for Islanders and knew first hand how much demand there was at all levels of the market.
He said that he would like to see the cranes and other commercial infrastructure serving St Helier Harbour on the New North Quay and along the Albert Pier moved to Elizabeth Terminal to create a marina that could accommodate super yachts, something which, he suggested, would attract wealth and investment that could help fund affordable facilities for local boat users.
And he said that the harbourside could be transformed into a ‘destination’ for all, whether boat-owners or not, who could enjoy chandleries, cafés, and restaurants.
Mr Lewis said that with the right investment and vision, an enhanced harbour had huge economic potential as an expanded leisure-marine centre.
‘We have a significant opportunity,’ he added. ‘We need a long-term vision, not the mish-mash that we currently have.’