Proposals to transform Snow Hill with a park, lift and bridge to help islanders access the 'Future Fort' could have a detrimental impact on the Napoleonic fortress and other historic buildings, according to heritage experts.
Plans for the new passenger lift, as well as further improvements to the Hill Street and Snow Hill area, were submitted by the States of Jersey Development Company at Ministers' request in February.
If approved, the lift would be another step in the current Government’s plan to regenerate the Fort.
But the Government's own Historic Environment Team and the National Trust have now objected to the proposal.
The Government's heritage assessors say it is "questionable" as to whether the potential positives of the development outweigh the "high heritage impacts".
The National Trust said it agrees, describing the proposals as "overly visually assertive in the setting and context" and likely to become a "strong, dominating landmark."
Express took a closer look at the history of the Fort and surrounding Snow Hill zone, and the heritage concerns around the latest proposals...
Fort Regent is the only substantial, and best-preserved, late Georgian fort in the Channel Islands. Built to protect against invasion from Napoleonic France, the fort was completed in 1814 and named after Prince Regent. Despite never being attacked, the fort has remained a key part of Jersey’s fortification history.
In the later 19th Century, parts of the site started being developed for other, non-military, uses. The rock cutting, as seen today at Snow Hill carpark, is not part of the Fort’s defensive design but largely dates from the late 19th Century quarrying and railway works.
Pictured: Railway transportation in Jersey in the 19th Century. Credit: Société Jersiaise.
In May 1874, a railway station was opened with a line connecting St Helier to Gorey. The cutting, however, was too narrow for passengers, so in 1897 the eastern face of the work was quarried back to Regent Road.
By 1935 the Snow Hill terminal had reopened as a bus station. In 1964 the buses were moved and the cutting became the carpark that it is today.
A few years later, work commissioned by the States of Jersey began, to develop the 22-acre 19th Century fortification site into an all-weather leisure facility.
The much-loved cable car facility opened in 1970, giving easy access to Fort Regent from Snow Hill. The cable cars continued to operate until the late 1980s. Since the cars were scrapped, however, many have complained of difficulties in accessing the Fort, with pedestrians having to either enter via a lift from Pier Road car park or walk up Mount Bingham.
Pictured: The cable car used the entire length and height of the cutting, providing a crucial link between town and Fort Regent. Credit: Jersey Heritage
Restoring a cable car link has long been discounted due to capital and running costs. But, according to a Heritage Impact Assessment produced by local company MS Planning, the idea of a lift at Snow Hill has been well received.
The now underutilised leisure centre is no longer fit for purpose, leading the Government to introduce a phased approach for its new development.
The recent proposals, drawn up by the States of Jersey Development Company on the request of the Government, include plans to regenerate the area, including:
Pictured: The lift would be another step in the current Government's plan to regenerate the Fort.
Last month, work began on creating a 'walkway in the sky' around the Fort - accessible landscaped gardens around the Fort where islanders will be able to enjoy panoramic views of St. Helier.
The Government highlights that the redevelopment of the Fort is an "enormous undertaking", that is likely to take "many years" to complete.
According to the Government's Historic Environment Team, any development in the area needs to be "extremely carefully considered" and as "gentle as possible" given its "sensitive" heritage context.
In their view, the lift plan does not fit this criteria.
“Sadly, the proposals, whilst well designed with a strong architectural logic, are overly visually assertive in the setting and context and will become a strong, dominating landmark,” the Historic Environment team said in a letter of objection to the planning application.
Pictured: Fort Regent in its town context. (Jersey Development Company)
“The impact of the lift on the local townscape is significant, it would be a new landmark building higher than the land form it [is] located next to at 39 metres high," they added.
The letter outlines how the lift would have a "detrimental impact" on the "character and significance" of the grade-one listed Fort Regent, its associated cutting in Snow Hill, and the range of listed buildings on Regent Road.
“Whilst the imperative for these works is understood, access to the Fort using this form of strong architectural response does have a detrimental impact on the setting of the Fort and other listed buildings in the locality.”
In a follow-up letter shared with Planning on Monday (21 March), the National Trust for Jersey - a charity that acts as custodian for many of the island's heritage buildings - said it agreed with the Historic Environment Team's comments.
It said that the application appeared to breach the Island Plan policy relating to the protection of listed buildings and places "and their settings".
The policy requires that the body making a planning application proves that "there is no reasonably practicable alternative means of delivering the proposals without harm to the heritage values of the listed building or place" and that efforts have been made to mitigate any harm.
"We do not believe that the proposals, as they have been submitted, achieve this," the National Trust said.
The Trust also said they did not think that enough consideration had been given to alternative access proposals like shuttle bus services or upgrading parking facilities at Pier Road - ideas they said may "obviate the need for such an intrusive and expensive structure."
"It would have been helpful for such a study to have included a cost-benefit analysis of the various alternatives," the Trust said.
They also queried whether it was "appropriate to approve plans for improved pedestrian access from Snow Hill" before wider plans for the Fort's exact use - which the Government has suggested may include walkways in the sky, and a major entertainment/conference venue and a hotel - have been determined.
"These will likely all have different access requirements which should be considered and modelled before committing to the lift proposals.
"The current proposals seem to be an unduly expensive cart to put before a somewhat unpredictable horse."
The application will be considered by the Planning Committee at a later date.
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