Monday, November 7, 2011

The Millennium Town Park - a personal view

One of the four questions put to the candidates in the election for Senator at the final hustings last month was why the new park had been built without the underground parking that was part of the original petition. As chair of the meeting I obviously couldn't say anything but listened as most of the candidates deplored the fact that the project hadn't tackled the desperate need for more parking in our parish. Stuart Syvret was the only candidate who seemed to fully appreciate the difficulties involved in digging out the site to a much greater depth as would have been necessary if underground parking had been included - and the huge increase in the cost of the project.

It was difficult enough to persuade the States to part with the 10 million pounds the park project cost - thanks to Deputy Southern's amendment to the 2011 Business Plan and the intervention of Senator Alan Maclean's ring binder; it was equally difficult to stop the States from building appartments around the edge of the park site - St Helier elected representatives lost that vote in the States, but the former Planning Minister, Freddie Cohen, withdrew the plans that would have made our new park even smaller than it is. How much more difficult it would have been to get the States in the current economic climate to stump up the extra tens of millions that an underground car park would have cost.

Yes, there were some private sector schemes floated during the last dozen years, and countless proposals for putting the car parking elsewhere - a multi-storey on Ann Court site, anyone? - but States Members in 2011 were faced with the prospect of another decade of argument about underground parking on the site, and no realistic hope of implementing the public's preferred project to celebrate the new millennium - unless they went ahead and voted the funding for a surface park. And that was the decision that was made, albeit by the narrowest of margins.

Not that we should give up on the search for more public parking in the northern part of St Helier; we shouldn't. The company that owns the site occupied by the Odeon and the various surface car parks and warehouses adjacent to the new park is keen to develop a mixed-use scheme and have told the St Helier Roads Committee on a number of occasions that it will include as much public parking as the transport planners will allow. There are also various publicly owned car parks in the area, including parish car parks at Nelson Street and Byron Lane, and States' owned sites in and around Springfield, that could provide much more parking than they do. To the east of town, there is ample space to extend Green Street car park, so long as the States aren't determined to build the new police station there, while extra levels of parking at Snow Hill have been talked about for years.

As for the new park, it is a dream come true for thousands of Islanders. Someone who lives in an adjacent street told me, with tears in her eyes, how she came out of her front door one morning to see a large tree in autumn leaf had appeared at the end of her road. Even though the Millennium Park Support Group is disappointed with the removal from the scheme of some of the features that were promised, and the inclusion of unwished for elements, practically everyone is agreed on one thing: the Millennium Town Park is an enormous improvement on what was there before. See you there, for a game of petanque, perhaps, or a jog a few times round the perimeter, or a picnic on the grass.

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