PLANS to reconnect the Waterfront to the rest of St Helier via a new pedestrian crossing and upgrades to the underpass roundabout are short-sighted and will fail, a former Environment Minister has said.
John Young voiced his concerns at a public inquiry yesterday assessing outline plans from the Jersey Development Company to build nearly 1,000 flats on reclaimed land between Castle Street and West Park.
The project, which will be phased over 12 years if approved, includes the creation of shops, offices, gyms, surgeries, a children’s nursery, parking, public gardens, streets and squares, and a new slipway over a 30-acre site.
On day three of the five-day inquiry before an independent planning inspector, members of the JDC’s application team said that plans to build a bridge across the six-lane Route de la Libération – long seen as a barrier to the Waterfront being fully integrated with the rest of town – were part of initial designs but had been shelved at an early stage.
Instead of bridging the highway, the JDC plans to calm it with a new single-stage pedestrian crossing close to the western end of the current cinema building, which is earmarked for demolition.
The firm has also proposed placing zebra crossings on all roads leading into the underpass roundabout, instead of the current four slip roads, and turning it into a ‘Dutch-style’ system, with dedicated cycle and pedestrian lanes on the outside of the circular road.
But Mr Young, who addressed the inquiry in a personal capacity, said that the Island was missing ‘a golden opportunity’ to deal with the underpass road, which ‘tore out the heart of St Helier’.
He said: ‘The whole issue of connecting the Waterfront is the single biggest urban planning issue this Island faces.
‘We learnt at the inquiry that JDC did include a bridge in its initial designs, and I was surprised to hear that they were dissuaded from pursuing this idea by the Jersey Architectural Commission.
‘The commission’s argument was that the road needs to be calmed rather than ignored and made more of an avenue by reducing the width from four lanes to two, and six to three, to slow the traffic down.
‘I was then shocked to learn that a decision was taken not to reduce the lanes because it would cause 15-minute delays to traffic travelling east to west, and vice versa. And a decision had been taken at a political level that 15-minute tailbacks there would have an unacceptable impact on our economy.’
The inquiry also heard that traffic surveys and analysis had shown that there were close to 40,000 vehicle movements a day between the Tunnel and West Park.
Most of those were journeys across town to head east or west, rather than local trips around town.
Mr Young said: ‘JDC have admitted that in order to achieve the ambition of halving the lanes, there would need to be a 30% reduction in the amount of traffic going down that highway.
‘But Infrastructure officials said that a political decision had been made that that would be economically unacceptable, and we have to live with what we have.
‘If that is the case, then we are failing to grasp a golden opportunity.
‘Instead, it will be “business as usual” with traffic at the Waterfront, when we should be looking at a bold, strategic decision to reduce the number of car journeys.
‘Our politicians need to have the courage to do something, such as introduce a congestion charge for traffic passing through St Helier, which would not only discourage people from using their cars unnecessarily but also generate money to reinvest in transport services.’