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Frederick Benest: Five things I would change about Jersey

Frederick Benest: Five things I would change about Jersey

Friday 03 May 2019

Frederick Benest: Five things I would change about Jersey


After many years representing clients in courts as an advocate, Frederick Benest is now enjoying quieter days researching lost footpaths, and growing apples.

But those quieter times don't mean that his schedule isn't busy - the founding member of Benest & Syvret sings regularly with Cantabile and works with The Glass Rainbow Trust to promote Henry Thomas Bosdet’s art.

"To suggest changes to the way we live in Jersey without sounding arrogant or grumpy is something of a challenge. And I really have very little to complain about," he confessed.

"However, I’m conscious that many do not share my good fortune," he added, before putting pen to paper to discuss five things he would change in the island...

1. A lower cost of living

The cost of living is high in the island and affordable housing in particular is a real issue. Market forces will always favour the better off, but in a situation such as we have in Jersey where demand has consistently exceeded supply, the cost and availability of affordable housing in the freehold and rental sectors must be of primary concern for our future well being.  

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Pictured: If the "reasonable aspirations" of local young families can't be met, "we are in difficulties" says Frederick.

Put simply if the island cannot meet the reasonable aspirations of its young local families then we are in difficulties. Sale price control proved to be unworkable in the past, but rent control which is capable of being enforced could be tried again, and extending housing qualifications to share transfer transactions and also enabling cheaper building solutions, could all help the situation. Of course a bad Brexit outcome could change everything.

 2. Turn the Hospital into an arts centre

However, adopting a more positive note, the second change I should like to see is a greater appreciation for the arts at government level. We have a vibrant arts scene in Jersey. All sorts of artistic talent  appear at various one-off events — the Arts & Crafts Eisteddfod, the JerseyArtHouse events, and at the Arts Centre — to mention a few.

 
 
 
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A post shared by Glen Fox (@g.f.o.x) onOct 13, 2018 at 4:37am PDT

Video: Glen Fox at work on his New Street mural.

Have you seen Glen Fox’s latest wall mural at Jason’s in New Street? (And whilst on the subject, I hope the splendid mural in Pier Road will be refreshed before the 75th anniversary of the Liberation next year.)  

Though vitality at grass roots level is essential, where is a permanent home for the display of our rich artistic heritage?And of course since the lights went out at Fort Regent, there is nowhere for concerts of any size to be held — but that is another issue.

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Pictured: High walls and ceilings and with lots of room, the Hospital could be a brilliant arts centre. (@GovJersey)

It seems to me that the Island is neglecting the marketing potential of its heritage. Jersey for its size must have one of the richest and diverse heritages anywhere.

It has been suggested to me that if the General Hospital is to be vacated then the old building would make an ideal art centre, the forecourt of which The Royal Academy would be proud. It is central, distinguished, with high walls & ceilings, structurally sound (I believe) and with sufficient room both inside & out for any type & size of exhibition.

And what would one do with it otherwise? It’s no longer suited as a hospital, nor for residential or office accommodation, and it would be a shame to pull it down as it’s an essential part of the townscape and Island history.

The newer buildings could still be sold off to help defray wasted expenditure or possibly for housing.  As to funding the conversion of the old hospital, surely the redundant bank accounts fund, some lottery monies (in the UK lottery funds are used for heritage projects) and private charitable funds could be the solution. 

 3. Let's nurture nature!

I’m sure, like Bob Tomkins, you’ll be aware of the continued decline in wildlife, both on land and in the sea. Driving at night even during the summer months, aren’t you struck by how few moths are dazzled by your car’s headlights? In the past, the hedges in the country were full of glowworms. I haven’t seen one for several years.  

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Pictured: "A pristine field of grass or maize without a weed in sight does not delight my eye," says Frederick.

Granted there may be special reasons for the decline of any one species, but it would appear incontrovertible that there is a general pattern at play. I’m bound to say that seeing a pristine field of grass or maize without a weed in sight does not delight my eye, nor yet rows upon rows of noxious liquids for a tidy-minded gardener to choose from at garden centres.

Reading about the rewilding experiment at the Knepp Castle Estate in Kent is informative.  Intensive farming there was no longer becoming viable and so the owners decided to allow their 3,500 acre estate to revert to nature. The experiment has shown that if nature is given a chance both flora and fauna will recover despite decades of repression.

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Pictured: Wild flowers help look after the local fauna.

On an optimistic note, the wild flowering of some local fields, the proposal to change the way hedges are strimmed for the branchage and urging gardeners to leave weeds in corners of their gardens are all steps in the right direction, but a change in the way we interact with nature to nurture it rather than to destroy it must be ever more urgent.

4. Put a ban on big cars

Everyone complains now about the traffic. Most of the roads in town used to be two-way.  The reason this is now longer possible, and of course not desirable, is that cars are bigger and wider.

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Pictured: Let's get rid of Range Rovers, Porsches and Mercedes - they're too big for Jersey's narrow roads.

The change I suggest is very simple. Ban the sale of cars, new & second hand, over six feet wide. The island’s roads would soon be free of Range Rovers, Porsches, Mercedes etc.,etc. and cars could pass each other on the island’s narrow roads without the danger of losing wing mirrors on one side or the other.  Slowing down or stopping to allow lorries or tractors to pass somehow doesn’t rankle as much.

Continuing to fantasise, (not wishing to alienate members of my family or to lose too many friends,) wouldn’t it be fun to have a tramline built on the old railway track from St Helier up to Quennevais.  An efficient service could transform the rush hour traffic, and trams are always popular and safe enough, even in the most crowded areas.

 5. Bring back pith helmets

My last suggested change is borne out of nostalgia and again is very simple and effective. I think that police officers on the beat and community police officers in the summer should revert to wearing white jackets and pith helmets. Not only are they an attractive uniform but also uniquely local, and would emphasise our distinct identity as a separate jurisdiction — no bad thing in the current climate.  

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Pictured: An example of a white pith helmet. (Jersey Heritage)

Though I’d anticipate some initial misgivings by the police authorities, I suspect that the uniform’s wearers would soon appreciate a positive reaction from the general public, which must be good for the community and good for the force’s morale. I suspect it has been a long time since a policeman has been asked by a visitor to pose for a photo.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not Bailiwick Express.

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