A phased approach to the project, for which initial funding is already in place, was described by Chief Minister John Le Fondré as the Island’s ‘best opportunity to move from planning to action’ and breathe life back into an iconic but rundown feature of St Helier.
Within the next year, it is hoped that the relocation of sports organisations currently based at the Fort will be completed, internal structural work to strip out asbestos will start, landscaping for gardens and heritage walkways will begin and plans for improved access from Snow Hill will have been submitted.
The later stages of the ten-year scheme are envisaged to be built around a multipurpose venue for conferences, sporting events and concerts, alongside a hotel, cinema, ten-pin-bowling alley and a casino.
Food and drink outlets, play areas and a winter garden have also been included in the outline scheme, which is to be the subject of a six-week consultation, starting today.
The scheme is the latest attempt to breathe new life into the ageing facility with previous reviews and consultations – including a 2013 document produced by the Fort Regent Political Steering Group – leading to little action.
Andy Scate, director general of Infrastructure, Housing and Environment – the lead department for the project – said there were good reasons to feel optimistic that the scheme, in contrast to previous efforts to transform Fort Regent, could be delivered.
He said: ‘The phased approach recognises that we can’t do it all at once, and the work to relocate sports that have been based at the Fort will offer a blank canvas for the site.
‘This is a different approach to previous attempts which offered vision and design but got bogged down and could not be delivered.
‘There are challenges with every project but this one is supportable and accessible and will be delivered in bite-sized chunks.’
Senator Le Fondré admitted that successive governments had brought a range of different concepts for the Fort, but that these had ended up gathering dust rather than being progressed.
He said: ‘Things are happening, there is money set aside [a total of £8 million in initial funding], the asbestos work has to be done and we’d want to get planning permission for the access from Snow Hill before the election.’
Focus groups have already considered options for the Snow Hill link and are believed to have favoured lifts over the reintroduction of cable cars. These could be installed in partnership with the Jersey Development Company using profits generated from previous schemes.
Project lead Dave Curtis said the later phase of the project would be built around a flexible venue – which could expand and contract its capacity between 500 and 2,500 people – as well as ‘boutique’ bowling and cinema facilities and a hotel. Mr Curtis acknowledged that the inclusion of a casino on the blueprint was likely to ‘attract opinion’ – with this element envisaged as a ‘medium-sized’ facility of up to 20,000 square feet.
‘It’s not going to be Las Vegas,’ he said.
The latter stages of the project are expected to be funded through a mixture of public money and private investment.
Research agency 4insight has already gathered some Islanders’ views on the proposed plans through six focus groups and online forums with the government saying that the initial plans had received a positive reaction.
Senator Le Fondré added: ‘I am pleased that the Future Fort proposals have been published for Islanders to review and share their feedback and I would like to thank all the officers involved and my colleagues, Senator Lyndon Farnham and Deputy Hugh Raymond, for helping to make this happen.
‘Fort Regent is an important part of St Helier’s skyline and many Islanders will have fond memories of the venue. Unfortunately, over the years, it has become underutilised and needs investment and rejuvenation. The Future Fort plans demonstrate a vision to turn Fort Regent into a cultural and leisure destination, providing activities for Islanders and tourists of all ages to enjoy.
‘The focus groups and online community groups received the plans with enthusiasm but we want all Islanders to get involved in sharing their feedback on the plans, as this will be a venue for the whole Island to enjoy.’