Built Environment and the Public Realm
The Built Environment can be a remarkable cultural, social and economic resource, vitally important for people’s identity and well-being. It is a tangible part of Jersey’s distinctive character, generating (at its best) a sense of place and pride. This physical identity is not confined to notable ‘heritage’ buildings, but is also derived from the commonplace structures and places that provide the backdrop to our daily lives: homes, shops, offices, farm buildings, street furniture, green lanes, roadside walls, fosses, banques, lavoirs, post boxes, piers, slipways, parks and gardens. However, much of what makes Jersey special in this regard has been lost, both in terms of the destruction of unique and historic edifices, and in the haphazard creation of new developments which are out of sympathy with each other and Jersey’s character.
In terms of protecting what remains, Jersey’s heritage assets were surveyed and their value reviewed between 2011 and 2013, leading to their subsequent designation as listed buildings or places where their heritage value warranted protection. The effect of this was meant to ensure that their heritage value is a material consideration during the planning process. However, listed and culturally-significant structures are still being lost (a figure now at least recorded annually), partly because the issue of ‘viability’ for new developments requires more systematic guidance to ensure it is weighed empirically. In general, planning policy requires review (and comparison with other jurisdictions) to assess how it could better protect the historic built environment. The Board endorses the introduction of Conservation Areas, and the Minister of Environment’s suggestion to reintroduce a historic building grant scheme. However, the debate must also be informed by an appreciation that the high cost of housing in Jersey alienates many of the poorest, and exacerbates divisions between those who ‘have’ and those who don’t.
In terms of managing the new, the Board noted some success stories but highlighted many areas for improvement (including Jersey winners of the ‘Carbuncle Cup’ for Britain’s ugliest developments). Guernsey was cited as doing much better in preserving its distinctive look and feel, especially when comparing St Peter Port to St Helier. The Board wanted to see distinctive Jersey architectural themes better preserved (and reflected in official guidance on style), and new developments better harmonising with their historical and natural environment. It also wanted to see more trees in public spaces, and better celebration of Jersey’s French heritage in the naming of buildings and streets. It lamented the increasing adoption of UK standards of road design, traffic management furniture, bus shelters and signage, and suggested creating distinctive Jersey style for these following European cues.
Finally, focusing on St Helier, the Board recommended the development of a ‘St Helier Town Centre Masterplan’ and a particular focus on enhancing the vitality and viability of St Helier’s historic Markets. The Board also hoped that French and Continental retailers could be enticed to set up shop in the Town, which would potentially attract tourists from both sides of the Channel as well as helping to distinguish our national Capital from the English market towns which it increasingly resembles.
Jersey’s natural environment has always been deeply intertwined with our national identity. Our relationship to the land and to the sea has shaped the sensibilities - and livelihoods - of countless generations of Islanders, and continues to play an important role in the way we see ourselves and in the image others have of us. In a Visit Jersey survey the word most commonly associated with Jersey is ‘Beautiful’, and it was the widely-held view of the Board and its interviewees that this beauty should be preserved.
Fortunately, in this area the Board found much to admire. The character of the Island’s countryside has been, since the introduction of planning legislation in 1964, fairly well protected, despite significant population growth (and notwithstanding a recent relaxation of controls on advertising hoardings, the proliferation of imported fencing products and the creeping growth of traffic management clutter). Our genuinely world-class beaches remain unspoilt, and our Coastal National Park enjoys a high level of protection.
The Board praised the Government’s ‘Countryside Enhancement Scheme’ which provides grants for projects which ‘maintain and improve the Island's unique and internationally significant rural character, landscape, habitats, flora and fauna’. The Board noted that deepening our focus on protecting the natural environment not only ensures we are good stewards for future generations, but helps us improve the international narrative about the Island. In this context, there are significant advantages to pursuing the Sustainable Transport Policy – including our unparalleled opportunity to reduce our dependence on the internal combustion engine – and to decarbonising our economy. In conjunction with this, planning policy should also be amended to give less priority to the motor car. The current requirements for the provision of roads and parking spaces for new housing developments exceed those of the UK, and lead to the development of what some have described as ‘car parks with homes attached’. This damages the environment while also pushing up housing costs.