A large-scale event at Fort Regent has had to be cancelled at the last minute – with fears of more emergency cancellations – after a fire safety review concluded there should be no more than 1,170 people inside at any one time.
The decision came following an extensive review by a fire safety engineer, who found problems with lighting and access to emergency escape routes due to closure of certain areas of the Fort while asbestos removal is carried out.
As a result, the number of users able to visit the Fort at any one time has been capped at 1,170.
Pictured: CLICK to read the letter from Fort Regent's manager to the activity centre's tenants in full.
This latest move to limit the number of people able to visit Fort has led to a last-minute site change for Rumble on the Rock, which is due to be held this Saturday. As late as yesterday morning, the event was still being promoted as taking place at Fort Regent.
More large-scale events are now expected be cancelled, including Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s Spring Concert (13 April), and dance music event ‘BLKOUT’ (20 April).
Parents of children due to take part in the Jersey Music Service's upcoming musicals-themed concert received a letter yesterday that their booking for the Fort event space had been cancelled. However, they pledged to find an alternative venue "as our young musicians have worked so hard for this performance [and] we don't want them to lose this opportunity".
There were also fears about hotly-anticipated gig by 80s band the Human League on 24 May. Event organisers Rockit Ltd said they were “absolutely gutted” about the news, but that they now hoped to stage the event at The Royal Jersey Showground in Trinity – subject to the Bailiff’s approval.
In an email sent to owners and operators of Fort-based businesses, which was shared with Express, Fort Manager Jo Mousdale explained that the events were unlikely to be “financially viable” to be run while keeping attendee numbers below the cap.
“Those that do run will require a full safety and emergency risk assessment before the event can proceed and we’re working on these where we can,” she said.
Nonetheless, the Higher Education Careers Fair, which has seen attendance from hundreds of students from the island’s schools and colleges each day, was still able to take place this week.
Ms Mousdale added that the Fort’s day-to-day operations, which include a gym, play area and numerous classes, shouldn’t be affected.
Pictured: Areas around the gym and showers have had to be closed due to asbestos concerns.
In the interim, she said the Fort was already working on improvements as per the fire review’s recommendations, such as providing better signage and bettering their “marshalling capacities”.
Improving the lighting in the main hall, which has been a key concern for event planners, and reassessing the emergency capacity have been left with Jersey Property Holdings – an arm of the government that manages its £1billion property portfolio.
This most recent development for the Fort, which was described as a “ticking time bomb”in an independent assessment of the island’s sporting facilities, comes after the Fort last week urged its tenants to brush up on their fire evacuation arrangements.
They were also urged to study extensive information provided in booklet format on asbestos – a carcinogenic substance, which can pose a risk if disturbed during property developments, which was found in the building and led to multiple area closures – and Legionella, a bacteria that can cause serious illness that has previously been found in the Fort’s water supply.
Pictured: The play area will still be open as normal.
Business owners - including those of the café, play area, creche, sports groups – that occupy areas of the Fort were also made to sign a ‘Tenant Contractors Conditions’ contract, relating the upkeep of and potential alterations to their premises.
Those who regularly work in the Fort were also urged to ‘sign in’ and ‘sign out’ when they enter and leave the premises. Speaking of the risk in the case of a fire, Ms Mousdale warned: “Fort Regent staff will not check your area, so if the board says you are out when you’re in, you may be putting yourself and others at risk. Likewise, if the board says you are in, when in fact you’re out, it could place fire service staff at risk who will try to search for you.”
Many islanders have commented on the deteriorating state of the Fort in recent months.
Yesterday, one islander posted about problems with the showers on 10,000-plus Facebook forum ‘Good or Bad Jersey Businesses’. He said that numerous complaints had been made that were not addressed, leading him to believe “The States are clearly looking to run down the Fort.”
Pictured: The Facebook post regarding the showers.
Meanwhile, Alison Stewart, Chair of the Jersey Symphony Orchestra, whose Spring Concert in April is now at risk, has previously voiced concerns about the risks for arts and culture on the island as a result of the Fort’s increasingly dilapidated structure.
Today, she described the news as a "bombshell".
She told Express the JSO are now exploring a number of other options, but if the event cannot go ahead, they stand to lose out financially.
"At such short notice we're obviously in advanced stages of preparation, with flights and accommodation booked for our conductor and soloist, and our large number of visiting players. Unfortunately we need a large space, and there simply is no obvious alternative venue."
Pictured: Alison Stewart, Chair of the Jersey Symphony Orchestra, whose April concert may have to be cancelled.
Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, Deputy Hugh Raymond, said that it “would not be right to allow events to be held knowing that safety was being compromised”, adding that he “hope[d] alternative venues can be found for the events affected”.
The Deputy continued: “The Fort continues to be a safe working environment, and its day-to-day operations can continue. However, risk assessors have concluded that safety measures must be improved for large events, and have recommended limiting the number of people allowed in the Fort at any time.
“We are well within that capacity during our daily operations but that capacity is reached when we hold large, major events, and regrettably we will no longer be able to hold them if they lead to the total number of people in the Fort exceeding 1,170."
Pictured: Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, Deputy Hugh Raymond, who said a Fort Regent Ministerial Steering Group is now being launched.
However, Deputy Raymond said work was being done "in the meantime". "A Ministerial Steering Group is being set up to identify how the Fort can remain an important asset for the island in the long-term," he assured.
There had already been warnings that the Fort's days as a large-scale music and comedy venue could be numbered.
John Rogers, the Director General of Growth, Development and Housing, which has responsibility for JPH, last year described it as "the beginning of the end" shortly after concerns about asbestos emerged.
Despite fears from islanders that not enough has been done to save the venue, outgoing JPH Chief Ray Foster denied last month that there was a "conscious policy" to let the space decay.
Instead, he argued that there had been improvement plans, but that they'd fallen through due to a lack of funding.
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