Comment: Government's £100m sports facilities strategy must not remain on paper

IN all my life, I don’t think I have ever been excited or optimistic about government development plans (or the lack of). I have only felt despair and incredulity.

Jersey Evening Post JEP STAFF.Paul Lees.Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30461250)
Jersey Evening Post JEP STAFF.Paul Lees.Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30461250)

In my home town of Kettering I have seen the decay of a once bustling, albeit brutalist, town centre and the forced removal of the football club from their Rockingham Road home, with the local council doing all they can to resist plans to build a new stadium for them (they now tenant from a club four divisions below them in the non-league pyramid).

In Jersey, I have seen the cack-handled, semi-developed click-n-fit building projects that blight the Waterfront and the neglect of Fort Regent.

Over the last 25 years, just about the only new construction either place has been able to boast about is the arrival of a new multiplex cinema. And even that is tinged with the regret of saying goodbye to the old ones resplendent in their art deco glory.

So excuse me if the government’s ‘Inspiring Active Places Strategy’, released this week, sends me into a leg-shaking quiver.

It is exciting. And it should be applauded.

Now, let’s make sure it’s delivered.

Naturally more investigative journalists than I might want to question where the money will come from, though Deputy Hugh Raymond has confirmed that the government will be seeking private investment in the project too. With all the money that washes through the Island, it should be something we can afford. We don’t pay the most in tax and certainly there are many who could pay proportionately a whole lot more, but what revenue the government does collect I want to see it spent properly, back in the community. And after health (new hospital), education (new Les Quennevais school) and infrastructure (the Airport), I can’t think of anything more deserving of our contributions.

It is exciting because all four corners of the Island will be well-served by modern sporting facilities. It will be a great boost for Team Jets and other indoor (team) sports that will be able to compete in front of a home crowd. I think it is right that Fort Regent should be repurposed into a culture and entertainment centre (though hosting sporting events should not be off the table either) as I argued in this column in January. In fact, I am struggling to find much that is disagreeable with the strategy, insofar that if I read this back I might even accuse myself of being a government cheerleader.

There are still salient points to be raised. What of FB Fields? It is a strange omission from the report and there is no resolution offered for the area that James Scott wanted to develop into five-a-side courts. Former Senator Jim Perchard, who owns the Farmers-Caersareans cricket ground, has raised a fair question about government funding into private or community-owned recreational facilities. Certainly there are places with a lot less personal financial backing than his that should benefit too; for example, more football clubs having better floodlit pitches. Meanwhile, the Jersey Football Association have expressed reservations about a proposed national stadium but it will come to a point when Springfield will no longer be suitable for Jersey Bulls’ needs through the inability to develop proper stands or terracing on the north, south and west sides of the ground; a must for any self-respecting football stadium.

Neverthless, the strategy provides a holistic vision that we should all get behind. Something that will bind and give strength to communities across the Island and nurture a more active and socially equitable Jersey that we can all enjoy.

It’s important that this doesn’t end up like the hospital saga with ideas left on paper. Let’s get the funding secured and get it built.

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