Silence in the face of those ‘iconic’ developments

- Advertisement -

I flatter myself on knowing this little rock pretty damn well but, nonetheless, there are still occasions when I see some nook or cranny in a totally new light.

I enjoyed one of those moments a week or so ago when dropping in to a friend’s family home for the first time. Living above La Pulente, my hosts enjoy the most amazing views of St Ouen’s Bay. What a sight it was to behold as the day neared its end and the sun was preparing to exit in some style.

Even my psychotically anti-feline Jack Russells forgot the presence of a cat as they stared, mesmerised, out of the French windows that formed a welcome screen against the strong easterly wind that is determined to linger this summer. Though I suspect their focus on the view may have been due to the aforementioned feline’s ferocious reputation for chasing small dogs.

Views such as my hosts’ are worth a million pounds, and most likely are even in the current dip in the Island’s usually buoyant property market. But how can you put a price on such a breathtaking vista as St Ouen’s Bay and its hinterland up to and beyond the escarpment that runs, with a few interruptions and ugly man-made intrusions, from La Pulente to Les Landes? There it stands day after day, the last footfall between the Island and the United States, whether bathed in the dying ember glows of a summer sun or buffeted by Atlantic storms in the winter – more so as we experience climate change.

Whether we like it or not, there will come a time when man will no longer be able to contain the force of the sea. The Island’s defences will fail – or become impossibly expensive to maintain – and the shoreline of beauty spots such as St Ouen’s Bay will change. What Mother Nature gives she can so easily take away.

The forces of nature have been relentlessly chipping away at the coastline for millennia and no matter how man tries to intervene eventually nature will win.

If anything, it is man’s intervention that has done more damage in the name of progress or in attempts to manicure the natural environment. In my lifetime I have witnessed how the extensive land reclamation from La Collette to West Park has affected sand levels on the beaches to the east and tunnels the storm-force sea with such ferocious effect to the west.

St Ouen is not the only local beauty spot under threat. The saga of Plémont rolls on with a lack of political will to do the brave thing and save this spectacular headland. Surely anyone with a grain of common sense can see that a residential development – private homes, self- catering or whatever – is the last thing for such an isolated location. As equally beautiful as the headland and the bay below are the field system that stretches from Plémont to the edge of Vinchelez and the footpaths and tracks that criss-cross these legacies of the Island’s long-lost agricultural past.

There was a time, until recently, when protecting the character of the Island was an important consideration in deciding planning applications. Many a proposal for a few houses here and there, or a majestic single dwelling, were refused – or had to be toned down – because the design, presence or impact would be out of keeping with the character of the surrounding area.

That very important guiding principle seems to carry less weight these days and none more so than when an architect comes up with yet another iconic design for what is increasingly becoming an excuse to build in areas of outstanding natural beauty on the coast and inland. There is a fine line between what is truly iconic in so much as a new building, because of its beautiful form, creates a sense of place by adding to the public realm, and sticking out like a sore thumb.

In architectural parlance, the word ‘iconic’ used to define outstanding buildings that would stand the test of time and eventually rank alongside the truly iconic buildings, from the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and medieval cathedrals to the wonders of the industrial age such as Brunel’s bridges and St Pancreas Station. In today’s Jersey, it epitomises ostentatious design which, instead of making an outstanding contribution to the built environment, jars with the surroundings.

The former Portelet holiday camp site, the old fort at the western reaches of St Ouen’s Bay, Beau Couperon in Rozel Harbour and the Old Station House at Corbière are all examples of developments which do (or will when completed) sit at odds with their surroundings. Moreover, they do nothing to enhance the public realm in what are areas of outstanding natural beauty or part of the rich built tapestry that defines the Island’s man-made heritage.

Nor is it just the coastline that is under threat from incongruous development masquerading as the ‘iconic’. The town and St Helier’s waterfront may have long lost their local character and aesthetic appeal, but there are still areas of our urban capital that can and must be protected.

The proposed extension of de Gruchy’s department store – at seven storeys high – would not only dominate New Street but overpower neighbouring historic buildings in the same way as the new Royal Yacht Hotel overwhelms and intrusively overlooks one of the most important historic buildings in the Island, the Victorian merchant’s house at 9 Pier Road.

What is of greater concern is that apart from the usual suspects, since public opinion put an end to the short-lived towering aspirations for ‘skyscrapers’ on the waterfront, the people of Jersey remain strangely silent when it comes to developments that are changing the face of the Island.

The time to speak out is when proposals are submitted to, and being considered by, Planning. It is our civic duty to do what we can to influence the way this Island looks now and in the future because come the topping-out ceremony it will be too late.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Latest Stories

- Advertisement -

UK News

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Read the latest free supplements

Read the Town Crier, Le Rocher and a whole host of other subjects like mortgage advice, business, cycling, travel and property.