Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Millennium Town Park - 'Framed'?

The creation of the Millennium Town Park is shockingly overdue. As long ago as 1997 the Policy & Resources Committee felt the need to explain the delay in realising the project, putting it down to the complexities of the contaminated ground; since then, successive committees have commissioned feasibility studies, contamination reports and masterplans, which if placed together would probably fill a large bookshelf.

Many of the consultees involved in the early stages of the plans for a Town Park were primary school children: their models of how the completed park might look were displayed in the Town Hall, and various meetings held there with stakeholders, whose views on the type of park facilities were sought and carefully recorded. It is an indictment of the States relationship with the public that senior politicians have, since the late 1990s, simply ignored the outcomes of those early consultations. Meanwhile, the school children who contributed their vision of the new park have grown to adulthood, convinced, one must assume, that the States of Jersey cannot be relied upon to act upon the wishes of the people.

The majority of those who have campaigned for a Town Park, including the Millennium Town Park Group, have pledged to see the whole of the site used for open space. The Parish of St Helier has indicated that it would wish to see the roads bordering the site incorporated into the whole, albeit as paved areas where vehicular access to properties is still required.

One of the myths which some States Members have subscribed to is that such open spaces need to be framed by buildings. This view is especially espoused by the Planning Minister, Senator Freddie Cohen, who also wished to see the newly paved Weighbridge Square allow for a National Gallery at the Old Harbour end, to stop the open space from ‘bleeding’. The hoggin petanque pitches that were laid down were seen as a useful ‘temporary’ treatment of the end of the square earmarked for the gallery, but even the Minister would admit that such is the success of the new petanque space that it is likely to be permanent.

I don’t agree that the Town Park site needs to be ‘framed’ by terraces of new buildings along their edges. Early studies by imported consultants indicated that in the case of the Town Park, the surrounding properties would benefit from substantial increases in value, due to their position on the edge of the park, and that, in time, there would inevitably be investment in those properties that currently ‘turn their backs’ on the site. It should be pointed out that this process has already begun, with award-winning development of terraced houses on the south side of Gas Place.

As a member of the political steering group of the current master-planning process for the north of St. Helier, I pointed out at my first meeting with Hopkins, the chosen architects, earlier this year, that there was this historical opposition to building on the park; however, I have been disappointed to find out recently that they will be proposing the construction of housing on both sides of the park. The reasons given are likely to be aesthetic as well as financial, but I would argue that the open space provided by the two sites is simply too small to be compromised in this way.

The argument will be made that the Ann Court site, once cleared of housing, can provide additional open space, as well as new housing units, but I would argue that it is a case of both - and, not either - or; St Helier will only prosper as the focus of the majority of new housing developments if town residents have sufficient open space.

When I presented the petition for the creation of the Millennium Town Park to the States in 1997, and it was adopted with only two votes against, I believed that this decision would safeguard the sites against those who wished to see buildings upon them. Twelve years on from that near-unanimous decision I think that the time has come for the States to show once again that it is committed to the creation of the Millennium Town Park across the whole of the site, in recognition of the fact that the need for open space in St Helier has increased.

For the benefit of anyone who doesn't remember the Town Park petition, (P.190/1997), here it is:


To His Excellency General Sir Michael Wilkes, K.C.B., C.B.E., Lieutenant-Governor.

To Sir Philip Bailhache, Bailiff, President.

To the Members of the States of Jersey.

The humble petition of the inhabitants of the Island of Jersey shews –

(a) there is substantial public support for a public Town Park with underground car park (“the Town Park”) on the land currently comprising the public car park at Gas Place and the private car park occupying the site of the former Gas Company offices and workshops, the whole situate between Bath Street and the new Gas Company offices (“the entire land”);

(b) the maintenance of an open space on the entire land is desirable to ensure the quality of life of the residents and users of St. Helier;

(c) the Park would be a desirable and appropriate project to reflect aspirations for the future of St. Helier as a vibrant urban environment in the twenty-first century;

and accordingly your petitioners pray that –

(1) the Town Park be created on the entire land;

(2) the Town Park be known as the Millennium Town Park;

(3) the Town Park constitute a Millennium project for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations of Jersey, the residents of St. Helier and their children;

(4) the entire land should not be used for a multi-storey car park or other uses precluding a public park.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.

Countersignature of
Member presenting...................................................................... A.S. Crowcroft

Number of signatures.................................................................................. 16,404