AFTER decades of indecision and forgotten plans, the first tentative steps to transform Fort Regent have been taken – with clearing work for the creation of botanical gardens and scenic walkways.
Around 60 to 70 trees have so far been earmarked for removal by the government’s forestry team as part of the opening phase of the project, which is designed to turn the site into a cultural and leisure destination.
The initial works, which will be carried out over the next one to three years, involve regenerating the Fort’s outdoor spaces to create botanical gardens, moat and rampart gardens, heritage walks and paths.
Outdoor play areas will be created and the internal parade ground area will be used on an interim basis for cultural and leisure events and exhibitions, as well as markets, sports and pop-up shops.
The second phase of the scheme, which will take place over a four-to-eight-year period, includes plans for an entertainment, conference and exhibition venue, a hotel, bowling alley and a ‘small-to-medium-size casino’. No formal plans have been lodged for this part of the scheme.
Discussion about the future of Fort Regent has been ongoing for decades, and has previously included the formation of a steering group in 2010 that was asked to produce a realistic plan for the area.
After years of ultimately fruitless political debate, Chief Minister John Le Fondré said it was ‘brilliant’ to see physical progress being made.
‘This is the initial clearance and over the course of the year Islanders will see an improvement to this area. The intention is to get the garden areas of the Fort ramparts reinstated and back into use,’ he said.
He added that the ‘site preparation’ phase would hopefully be completed ‘during the course of the year’.
Asked about the need for sports clubs based at Fort Regent to be moved, Senator Le Fondré said: ‘The next stage of that is dependant on the [planning] application up at Oakfield. The funding is obviously there for it, we are just very much in the hands of the revived planning application, which, from my understanding, is being considered imminently.’
Plans to build a £3.1 million facility at Oakfield – which could become a hub for a number of sports moving out of the Fort – were submitted last month after the an original proposal for the project was refused.
Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis said: ‘It has been a long time and process, but this [Fort Regent] is a nine-acre site right in the middle of town and it is a wonderful asset for the people of Jersey.
‘Obviously we lost the cable cars many years ago, so we need to get access because Fort Regent was built to keep people out.’
Deputy Lewis added that the development of improved access from Snow Hill could involve a combination of escalators and a lift, but that this was ‘still in the planning stage’.
He said: ‘Then people can come up and enjoy this wonderful facility we have here. We want to bring the gardens back to life as well as the stunning views over St Clement and across the rooftops of St Helier. I used to come up here as a young man and get on the cable car, go up to the pool and have a swim, have a bite to eat in the restaurant and then go back.’