Comment: Skate park and Fort Regent indecisions are indicative of delay and decay policies

I REMEMBER, clearly, the day I touched down in Jersey for the very first time. It was back in 1998 and one of my first impressions of the Island as the taxi driver took me from the airport to the Ambassador Hotel was being struck by the large, oddly futuristic-looking, white-domed building that overlooked St Helier.

JEP sports reporter Paul Lees
JEP sports reporter Paul Lees

‘What’s that?’ I asked the taxi driver.

‘That’s the leisure centre,’ came the reply.

‘A leisure centre?’ I was both surprised and a little underwhelmed to say the least.

What I didn’t know then was that two years later I would be moving over permanently and 22 years later I’m still here. I have become an honorary bean, my love, and in that time I have learned what a glorious place Fort Regent was in the years that followed its building (as we know it now) in 1974 but also seen what it has since become.

Families loved to go to the Fort in its heyday. Cable cars of red, yellow and blue used to take people up there from Snow Hill and on the ramparts you would find amusement rides and mini-golf, along with the facilities that remain to this day, as well as, of course, the swimming pool situated adjacent in its own building.

‘It was amazing, it had everything,’ my partner tells me almost misty-eyed. Like anyone of her generation, she still cherishes memories of the Fort growing up on the Island as a young girl.

‘It had a great vibe. It was thriving with lots of people. In the piazza there were shows on, there was rollerskating, fun fairs, all the sports, all sorts of different rides. In the swimming pool we had Pluto’s playtime where they brought out a great big inflatable. It was a free for all.’

Yet the Fort Regent of today is one of obvious decay and uncertainty over its future. The swimming pool building was finally demolished, having laid derelict for almost two decades, while the cable car station remains buried in undergrowth. Recently the Gloucester Hall, which has played host to various top acts such as Duran Duran, Shirley Bassey and Katherine Jenkins over the decades, was closed as an entertainment venue due to health and safety concerns after asbestos was found (thankfully lockdown prevented another toxic substance in the form of Jim Davidson from appearing last summer).

‘It is still nothing short of a disgrace that we have left that facility to deteriorate over the years and we talk about it without doing anything,’ said Senator Lyndon Farnham over two years ago, since when exactly nothing has been done about it.

Unfortunately, it is an all too familiar story.

Last week, Senator Steve Pallett lodged a proposition to the States Assembly so that the Government of Jersey can finally agree to building the proposed new skate park at Les Quennevais. The exasperation in the tone of the proposition is almost tangible. That the matter remains unresolved after years of going back and forth over the issue is shameful on all those involved in the decision-making process.

Similarly, ex-Muratti footballer James Scott found out the hard way how far dealing with faceless bureaucrats can get you when he was told – after quite some of his hard earned time, effort and money had already been spent – ‘no dice’ to his plans to turn a dilapidated area at FB Fields, dedicated for recreational use, into a well-maintained area dedicated for recreational use.

These prime examples of poor policy and planning does Jersey a grave disservice and injustice. It presents an otherwise beautiful and active island that is stuck in a time warp, comfortable in its own rotting decay rather than moving forward and modernising. While the rest of the world undoes its collar, Jersey still strides around in a polyester suit and kipper tie.

We are lucky to have wonderful public facilities for sports and recreation in Jersey that serve our local communities, from FB Fields and Springfield in the east to Les Quennevais in the west. Even the Fort still provides well-used and in-demand amenities. But all these facilities are decades old now and need refreshing. The government is currently looking at improving Les Quennevais in other areas too, as well as providing more facilities in the east.

With the future of the Fort the elephant in the room, it cannot come any sooner.

Access to various, wide ranging sports has never been in such exigency but supply falls short for this most active of small islands. Every sports hall – and there are many beyond the aforementioned centres – are booked up months in advance. But a place as wealthy and affluent as Jersey, where the GDP per capita is equal to Germany, Canada and Hong Kong, should be more than able to expedite an upgrade to existing sites without much need to grab more land for the developments.

It is estimated the cost of the installation of the skate park will be around £650,000, which is nothing in the grand scheme of things, but enough to make sure it is a top-class facility and tempt back our Olympic-hopeful BMX rider in exile, Alex Coleborn. It’s the least that our youth deserve and it could thrill a whole new generation, as the Fort did nearly half-a-century ago for the generation that now appears resistant to the project.

And so could a new, revitalised Fort, with good planning and real ambition, its glory days rediscovered, dragging Jersey kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

I have often thought about this. With the right level of private investment as well, there could be an architectural wonder to be proud of, a contemporary entertainment centre for culture, art, recreation and sport, with restaurants and bars that take full advantage of the wonderful vista across St Aubin’s Bay and beyond.

Imagine having a structure designed by a prominent architect such as Frank Gehry or Norman Foster that would be the pride of the Island and boost tourism exponentially. And why not, if places such as Bilbao, Elciego and Gateshead do. We can have this, just as we can have a skate parks, more 3G football pitches, a permanent home for Team Jets and whatever else we need or want. Not only can we have this, we should have it and if we were anywhere else in the world we already would.

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