It's crunch time for the Fort - the building either needs a new lease of life or must accept its sad fate, a senior States official has now warned amid concerns that the deteriorating building could be a threat to the safety of people using it.
John Rogers, Director General for Growth, Housing and Island Environment, said that there are many options for the future of the building, but that the decision will have to be made by the States Assembly.
His comments came yesterday during a Scrutiny hearing with the Minister for Infrastructure, Deputy Kevin Lewis, chaired by St. Brelade Constable Mike Jackson.
When asked about the future of the iconic building, Mr Rogers said that recent issues with asbestos were a sign that something urgently needs to be done with the building. Last month, parts of the Fort, including the weightlifting area, were closed down to the public after technicians found an asbestos-related fibre in an electrical cupboard containing an air handling unit.
Air tests carried out immediately after the fibres were found showed that staff and members of the public hadn't been put at serious risk, but officials nonetheless decided to remove debris and the asbestos-containing material in the coating of the walls as a precautionary measure.
"It's the beginning of the end for the Fort's current use," Mr Rogers told the panel, adding that thought needs to be given as to how it can be reinvigorated.
"It’s been a challenge for us for the past 20 years in terms of viability," he said. "It's tricky because it’s a fort, so it's designed to people not getting in, but once you are in there it’s a wonderful space."
Pictured: Fort Regent has been a challenge for the States for the past 20 years, a senior official said.
The Director General said that his department is trying to find a solution that will be viable for the next 50 years, while taking into account the "affection" Jersey as a whole has for Fort Regent. "It is a fantastic facility, we just need to find what it is going to be for its next life," he added. "There are lots of options and they are all very political!"
The Minister for Infrastructure commented that around 15,000 people use the Fort's facilities each week. "Not to mention Gloucester Hall when there is something happening there," he added. "It's very well used!" He however said that "an awful lot of money" is spent on the building.
Mr Rogers explained that the roof of the building leaks and that "there is a problem with everything." He said he wanted to avoid repeating history and what happened with the former pool, which he said is now sadly beyond repair and has to go. "We can't leave it [Fort Regent] like that," he said. "The actual redevelopment will be something for the States to decide at a political level.
"But if you look at the cable car station, it closed down in, what, 1988? And now we are only just starting to destroy it. It's a very peculiar way of managing your assets Once the swimming pool shut down, the logical thing to do would have to submit a planning application and deal with it. We have got to think better of our asset and how we manage it."
Pictured: Contractors should be on site early next year to start the demolition of the pool.
Fort Regent has been the focus of much attention recently, and not for the right reasons. The Minister for Economic Development, Tourism, Sport and Culture, Senator Lyndon Farnham, was quizzed on its future during the first States sitting after summer. Deputy Steve Ahier described "an abject failure to invest" in the building and asked the Minister what plans the Fort Regent Future Group, currently chaired by Senator Steve Pallett, had for its regeneration.
Senator Farnham said a lot of work has been going on, adding: "It is still nothing short of a disgrace that we have left that facility to deteriorate over the years and we talk about it without doing anything. Something simply has to be done. My department, my ministerial team, are absolutely side-by-side in ensuring it will be, because if it does not we will have to close the venue down in the not too distant future."
He added that the degradation of the Fort's surface has gotten to such a point that it is starting to affect users. "When the safety of the public is called into question, we are left with but one option. If that action is to happen, and I hope we can avoid it, but if it does then, ironically, it might prove the catalyst to give this Assembly and Government the kick in the pants it needs to get something done about it; if that is a parliamentary phrase I can use," Senator Farnham added.
Mr Rogers said that along with the redevelopment of the whole site, another form of access will need to be thought through to give people an easy access to the Fort from Snow Hill.
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