Casino at the Fort?

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The leisure centre’s future is once again up in the air following a decision by Education, Sport and Culture to shelve a planned feasibility study.Tourism chiefs now believe that a gaming hall would be the only way of funding a sports centre as part of a new leisure, heritage, conference and commercial development on the site.Deputy Lyndon Farnham, who has responsibility for gambling and tourism on the Economic Development Committee, said that the odds on the States Treasury finding the cash to run a revamped sports centre were very long.’The Fort is an important part of Jersey’s heritage and it presents huge opportunities for development,’ he added.He spoke yesterday after it was announced that the feasibility study into a future development at the Fort had been deferred.

The move will save the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds.The president of Education, Sport and Culture, Senator Mike Vibert, said that his committee was shelving the study because of a wave of public protest against the shutting of the popular sports facility.He added that new options had also come to light which convinced his committee to rethink their position.

They also had to take into account the committee’s new, wider remit and current discussions over States spending in general.’Circumstances have changed,’ he said.

‘As a committee, we could see that Fort Regent needed a serious sum of money spending.

Since then, we have had the Conference Bureau calling for a conference centre to be sited at the Fort.’We have listened to what people have got to say and I have been very impressed with the passion that people have shown for the Fort.’He explained that a proposition would now be looked at which would see the swimming pool area turned into a hotel, with the real land probably handed over to a private company on a long lease.

In addition, another floor would be built above the Queen’s Hall to house the conference centre, making use of the balconies overlooking the Harbour.Senator Vibert said that the popularity of the sports centre was a tribute to all those who had worked to make it such a success over the past decade.

However, he admitted that keeping it open would put back the construction of a Les Quennevais-style sports centre next to the new Le Rocquier for a long time – or even lead to the ischeme being binned altogether.He added that there would be ‘absolutely no chance’ that the swimming pool at the Fort would be kept open because it had passed its useful life and because of the new waterfront water park.Senator Ted Vibert, who said that he called for the plan now being discussed in his election campaign, described the U-turn as yet another example of politicians embarking on a project without thinking.’The Fort Users Association asked for this three months ago,’ he said.

‘This is a triumph for people power.

I am just sorry it has taken the committee so long and that they have been so obdurate.’Roy Travert, liaison officer for the Users Association, said that the U-turn was good news, as long as Deputy Farnham wasn’t using a casino as yet another way of removing sports facilities from the Fort.Of the feasibility study debacle, he said: ‘It’s been a botch job from the start.

They started it six or eight months ago and didn’t consult at the beginning or the middle and certainly not at the point where they cancelled it.

The important thing is that the sports facilities will remain at the Fort.’Deputy Farnham is expected to meet the group to discuss his proposals next week.

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