Marcus Binney, president of Save Jersey’s Heritage, described the result of Deputy Russell Labey’s proposition adopted this week by States Members as ‘tremendous’.
On Tuesday the States voted 25-20 to support Deputy Labey’s call for the £42m project to be reviewed in the light of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation industry and for efforts to be made to incorporate the 1937 terminal building into revised plans.
Under existing Ports of Jersey plans, the 1937 building was due to be demolished with safety reasons owing to its proximity to the airfield one of the main drivers.
‘We’ve argued for a long time that this really is a gem of aviation architecture. It has opened up the opportunity to restore it to its impressive original design. If they took trouble with it, it would become again the major landmark it deserves to be,’ Mr Binney said.
During the debate, Deputy Labey argued that the issue of the Airport was a matter of public interest. ‘Although Ports is an arms-length body it must be accountable. Can spending £42m in these uncertain times be justified, and will it affect the financial return made [by Ports] to the government?’ he asked.
He drew on information contained in a report by aviation consultants ASAP who cast doubt on the reasons for demolishing the 1937 terminal building, stating that increased safety restrictions were unnecessary.
But Treasury Minister Susie Pinel, who represents the States as the shareholder for Ports, maintained that the building constituted a ‘hazardous obstacle’ and said that it was essential to comply with international and UK aviation regulations, a point supported by the Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré.
Deputy Pinel said that since it was anticipated that air-traffic levels would recover from the effects of the pandemic within 24 months, this was a good time to continue with the Airport redevelopment work.
The debate caused a split within the Economic Development ministry with Senator Lyndon Farnham referring to ‘clear and unequivocal’ advice from the director of civil aviation that the arrivals building must be removed on the grounds of safety. But his Assistant Minister Deputy Montfort Tadier, who has delegated responsibility for culture, said insufficient emphasis was being placed on the views of heritage campaigners and too much on business lobbying.
St Peter Constable Richard Vibert said that the proposition would ‘fly in the face’ of the independence of Ports of Jersey but Senator Sam Mézec said this was an undemocratic approach and that it was right that elected Members should have a say.
‘This project is potentially unnecessary and over-extravagant and could squeeze out other important projects such as the new hospital, the new government building and important housing developments,’ he said.
And St Brelade Constable Mike Jackson questioned whether the aviation industry would really recover in 24 months, describing the approach as being like an ostrich with its head in the sand. He described the proposed new building as a ‘characterless edifice’.