Dismantling Fort Regent’s iconic roof would make a mockery of the island’s protected buildings register, and efforts to do so should be opposed, according to a former Planning Minister.
Ex-Deputy Rob Duhamel said the only reason he believed the Government was looking to dismantle the ‘Grade 2 Listed’ structure, which was completed in 1974, was because it is in a poor state due to Ministers’ own failure to invest in looking after it.
During his time as Planning Minister, Mr Duhamel spearheaded efforts to get protected status for the wave and dome structure embedded within the walls of the Georgian ramparts, winning the approval of a committee of architects, historians and laypeople in time for Architecture Week 2013.
Its listing describes the roof as a “major technological feat of its time”.
It is supported on free-standing columns designed by British Steel and consulting engineers Edwards and Blackie.
Pictured: Before the roof was constructed. (Jersey Heritage)
“The key element was the technology employed and new techniques for bracing walls – it was done at a time when we didn’t have the computer mathematical tools that are used nowadays. so the whole thing was done by hand,” Mr Duhamel, who said he would consider mounting a campaign to save the structure, explained.
This wasn’t the only reason it was deemed special.
Built before the oil crisis, not only was it the “largest roof of its type in western Europe at the time”, but was found to have “few, if any, parallels” elsewhere in the world.
In 1987, it was featured on a series of stamps on the theme of Modern Architecture.
Pictured: Completed in 1974, Fort Regent's roof was the “largest... of its type in western Europe at the time”. (Jersey Heritage)
“The whole point about the grading system is to establish a list of structures that are worthy of recognition and are able to be enjoyed into the future,” Mr Duhamel told Express.
“It’s been recognised internationally as a special structure so it would be an awful shame to see it go… I think the listing process is important and although we had problems with the airport structure, the Arrivals Hall which went the wrong way… The listing process is there to celebrate what’s architecturally best in the island. We should be looking more creatively at how we can repair rather than removing [Fort Regent’s roof].”
But, as it unveiled its “ambitious” vision for the future of Fort Regent last week, the Government was firm that the recognisable feature of Jersey’s skyline would have to go.
This was despite the rotunda featuring in the logo for the ‘Future Fort’ vision.
Project Director Dave Curtis explained that the current roof is now “functionally behind its useful life”. While it is not falling down, he added, it needs replacing and is difficult to adapt. Therefore, it has been decided it will be replaced, enabling the creation of a new space with vertical access.
Infrastructure, Housing and Environment (IHE) Director General Andy Scate described the roof as being “of age”. While he noted that it “still does the work”, a “variety of leaks” have been identified across the structure.
Mr Duhamel described this justification as “the usual nonsense that you get from the States – they haven’t got their act together in terms of maintaining buildings. If we were talking about knocking down St. Thomas’s Church or [another Listed building], obviously people would be up in arms.”
Pictured: An aerial view of Fort Regent shared by the Government as it unveiled its 'Future Fort' vision last week.
The Government has emphasised that their latest proposals to update the Fort – which include a casino and cinema in the long-term – would be subject to consultation with the public.
One of the questions in the consultation asks the public to what extent they agree that “long-term aspirations for the Fort justify altering or replacement the current Fort roof”.
Mr Duhamel said he was sceptical that the public’s views would really be taken into account.
Mr Duhamel said the overall proposals for the Fort released last week felt like a “kick in the teeth”, given the work that had gone into examining its future uses previously, and assurances that sport would remain there.
An Express investigation of all reviews conducted over the past 25 years showed that the latest plans only contained one original idea – a cinema.
Pictured: One of the questions in the consultation.
“It seems an awful shame that with the whole of the Fort Regent project, it’s almost like the hospital really, we seem to be going round and round in circles.
“Political statements have been made to the effect that sport would always remain at the Fort and we also had large investigations into whether casinos would be suitable for Jersey – on both those fronts, assurances were given that we wouldn’t have casinos and that sporting facilities would be paramount.
“It was surprising to see the Chief Minister as excited as he was, kind of praising the scheme that he was putting forward,” Mr Duhamel added, suggesting the latest proposals were “crass commercialism.”
“What I suppose is particularly surprising is, having gone over all the arguments and arrived several times that sport should remain at the Fort and the roof should be kept, we appear to be diverging on a whim. It’s all very well asking for the public’s ideas, but if no attention is paid to them, it leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.”
Pictured: Fort Regent's skyline, featuring the recently constructed swimming pool, in 1972 - two years before the leisure centre's roof was put in place. (Archive of Kenneth and Kathleen Le Sueur/Jersey Heritage)
He continued: “I don’t think there’s been much creativity in terms of suggestions for the Fort.
One thing that comes to mind would be an urban farm – growing food in greenhouse structures – vertically and using artificial lighting. It would be nice if we had a big project like that where we could look at the Fort and see… it making a more positive contribution [to the community].”
Pictured top: Jersey had a very different skyline before the Fort's iconic roof was constructed. (Jersey Heritage)
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