JERSEY’S leading sports politician wants to investigate options for the return of organised sport to Millbrook Playing Fields in 2022.
Deputy Hugh Raymond believes the site – recently sold to an anonymous benefactor for £700,000 and gifted back to the public – should be returned to a facility for the Island’s sports community to enjoy, following the demolition of the Nightingale Hospital.
The assistant minister – a former tennis coach and a current Jersey Race Club committee member – has also discussed what he views as a positive 12 months for clubs, associations, players and supporters, thanks in no small part to a significant increase in communication and awareness in 2021.
Despite, or perhaps because of the difficulties posed by ongoing pandemic restrictions, Raymond believes ‘sport has become important’ for a wider section of the population – more so than at any point throughout the last decade.
Raymond has been impressed by the States Assembly’s willingness to facilitate sporting progress, including the signing off of a £100million project to improve Jersey’s facilities. And he is understandably pleased with the publicity provided by visits from England Rugby and the British and Irish Lions.
‘Bearing in mind how negative everything has been with regards to Covid, we’ve got to be positive about the fact that sport has been at the forefront,’ he said.
‘My highlight of this year is that for the first time in the last ten or so years, sport has become important. Not just in terms of teams wanting to come over, but also more people are playing and getting active. If you think of all the things we’re trying to do, it’s all about trying to keep people healthy and out of hospital. Sport will never be as important as health or education or housing, but we can’t grumble. The important thing is we’re all talking now: the sports, the media and the government.’
He added: ‘A huge “thank you” must go to all our volunteers. Without them we couldn’t survive. We really do have to look after our volunteers, because no sport at any level, from top to bottom, can go ahead without them.’
Raymond’s 2022 wishlist includes the return of organised sport at Millbrook and positive action for projects under the government’s £100million Inspiring Active Places strategy. He admits there are still a number of sizeable issues outstanding, though, including the loss of previously-agreed funding for the expansion of Oakfield Sports Centre, totalling £3.1million, and delays to work at Springfield Stadium.
A planning application to relocate the fencing behind the goals at Springfield, making space for spectator viewing areas, was approved in December 2020 but a summer-2021 start date came and went without activity.
Jersey Bulls must have the work completed by March 2022 to allow time for approval by the England FA. They will not be eligible for promotion to the eighth tier of English football without spectator viewing areas on all four sides of the pitch.
‘I wish I had a crystal ball, because one minute we’re OK and the next minute we’re not,’ he said. ‘We are totally controlled by Treasury and we have lost some of the projects we were trying to do.
‘One of the first things I want to do in the new year is to find out what we can do at Millbrook to use it for sport. It’s flat, it has a lot of parking around it, there is good access … what a good facility to have. It would be great if we could use it how it was used before.’
He continued: ‘We have also got to make sure we get the fencing at Springfield finished. The last thing we would want to see is Jersey Bulls winning promotion and then not being allowed to move up. That is vitally important.
‘And, dare I say it, we have got to get Fort Regent decanted. The cost of keeping sport at the Fort is colossal due to maintenance. If we can put sport in dedicated sports venues it becomes cheaper.
‘The world is changing and we have got to change with it.’