The curious business of the leisure centre on the hill

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I don’t know which of that lot in the Big House was in charge of that great white elephant on the hill then but I remember when Jack Roche got the job – he was then chairman of the coal company – he jokingly suggested that the parade ground should revert to its former use: a coal dump.

Then there was one of the earlier debates, full of grandiose plans and ideas, when Clarrie Dupré referred all too briefly to where one of the entrances was going to go, only to be pulled up sharply by Norman Le Brocq, who pointed out that the wall there was 17 feet thick.

‘I’m told it’s possible,’ said Senator Dupré, to which Deputy Le Brocq (a stonemason by trade) replied: ‘It’s also possible to get toothpaste back in the tube but it’s damned difficult.’

It’s been like that ever since a benevolent benefactor left a quarter of a million quid in his will to provide – if my memory is still functioning properly – a ‘kursaal’ (defined in my dictionary as a building for the use of visitors at a health resort) to give somewhere for tourists to go in inclement weather.

I mention that deliberately just in case the Economic Development Minister, Senator Alan Maclean, and the general manager of the Jersey Conference Bureau, one Hamish Reid, were unaware of it.

They seem to want the Fort to become a specialist conference centre, although quite how this will fit in with the terms of the original bequest all those years ago is a puzzle to me. I just hope that if this idea is pursued – and I can’t see it doing anything but take business away from existing facilities – they don’t get in the same pickle as happened not that long ago with Howard Davis Farm.

Having read the report of the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny panel, I lean towards the view expressed by Jonathan Segal, managing director of the Modern Hotels Group, which has been directly involved with the Fort for more than three decades.

Put bluntly, as Mr Segal appears to have done, he advocated giving away the whole shooting match – lock, stock and barrel, as he could have said – to a private company to run on the understanding that they would share the profits with the States.

It must be 40 or 50 years since the States had the opportunity to do just that when a big business conglomerate brought forward one of the most imaginative proposals I’ve ever seen.

It involved Fort Regent and, as I recall it, the whole of the Weighbridge ‘island’ site and would have provided some incredible facilities, as well as so much public sector office space that even the pinstripes we’ve got today might have been hard pressed to fill.

Unfortunately, the key to the success or failure of this particular project was linked to a luxury hotel at the Fort, one floor of which was to have been a casino. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to determine what became of that little idea.

The upshot was that the scheme was binned almost before the ink was dry on the drawings, which is a bit of a pity because had it been approved it wouldn’t surprise me if we’d still have been living off the interest.

I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek, only because the modern day equivalents of the prudent Captain Mainwaring type of banker that used to exist has been succeeded by people whose greed is matched only by their irresponsibility, hence the fact that there is now precious little interest off which to live.

I have no doubt at all that in respect of Mr Segal’s eminently sensible suggestion – and particularly so in the present economic climate – that lot in the Big House will bin that too, probably terrified that they might be criticised because Modern Hotels might actually make a go of it and so make some money. We can’t have that, can we?

I reckon that the Scrutiny panel should get Mr Segal back and ask him to put some flesh on the bones of what he’s suggested and let’s see what he – and others in his line of business who are like-minded – would do to make a go of the place.

He could start by binning the idea that the place has got to be the be-all and end-all – it doesn’t have to be all things to all men because following that line of thought has led to the Fort being what it is today.

No doubt not doing that will please something called the Fort Users’ Association, a body that is so heavily involved in the Fort’s activities that interest in it in the latter part of the 15 years it has been in existence is so great that instead of meeting on a monthly basis they speak to each other only over the telephone.

Of course, now the future of the Fort is again in the spotlight they say that they intend to revamp the association. Another lobbying pressure group intent on preserving their little patch because they think it might be threatened, it seems to me. It’s a wonder a Plémont Dog Walkers’ Association hasn’t yet been formed, but perhaps I speak too soon.

And finally . . . At long last they’ve sent in the Militia. That’s what I thought about Simon Crowcroft’s ‘invasion’ of St Peter Port. Exchange gifts by all means – take some beads and coloured glass in exchange for their mineral rights if you like – but for heaven’s sake don’t twin with them.

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