With the closure of the arcade down at the Waterfront, the accusation that the area is turning into a ghost town has been raised again. There are no signs that anything meaningful will be done to bring life to that area whilst the question of the development of the whole site remains unanswered.
In that area we have now lost Pizza Hut, The Bar, WYSIWYG and the arcade. Plus the bar area in Cineworld never seems to be used for anything. It is clear that our Waterfront is not living up to its potential.
The whole area is proposed for demolition so a massive redevelopment can take place. But the plans for that redevelopment are highly contentious. Not only are the plans utterly uninspiring in their design, but they fail to deliver the kind of affordable homes that most Jersey people would prefer were prioritised there. Those plans have not been approved yet and there is every chance they will get knocked back multiple times before any spades can go in the ground.
Whilst that drawn out saga goes on, it is unrealistic to expect businesses to invest money in setting up shop and paying rent, only to be displaced once the next stage of the development starts. These sites will therefore likely remain empty and that area will perpetuate the feeling of a ghost town unless we can devise a smarter approach.
I believe that a temporary answer to this can be built upon this foundation - we own this land.
The Waterfront is ours. The people of Jersey own it. The company that officially owns it is the ‘States of Jersey Development Company’, a wholly publicly-owned company which exists to serve the public interest, as directed by the elected government.
This is a hugely advantageous position to be in, compared with under-used privately owned land. We, through our government, can direct the administrators of the Waterfront to do particular things we choose, and prioritise the social and environmental opportunities over financial gain.
So, if we are inevitably facing the blight of empty premises for years to come, bringing the whole area down, why not offer those places up for community use?
If they are otherwise going to be empty, why don’t we as a community say that we will waive the rent on those sites for ventures to establish themselves there, so long as they are for community benefit and they know that they will have to leave when the development starts?
How about community workshops? Places for local artists to develop their pieces? Or a space for entrepreneurs who are starting up their businesses to base themselves whilst they look for a permanent location?
There has been talk recently of setting up a ‘Library of Things’ in Jersey. The concept for this is basically exactly the same as a library, except instead of borrowing books you borrow bits and pieces you might only need for a bit and can’t justify spending money on buying to only use once or not have anywhere sensible to store it. This would be of huge benefit particularly for people who live in small flats in town who need to do the odd job to maintain them who could pop in to get what they need (a stepladder, a box of tools etc) and then drop it back when they’re done. There’s all sorts of wonderful things that could happen if we presented the opportunity for the community to take advantage of them and help them get on their feet.
If this is not being actively considered by the government and SoJDC now, then I would strongly urge them to give it serious thought. The Parish of St Helier could, of course, be an excellent partner in this too.
By embracing community-driven initiatives, we can make the most of our ownership of the Waterfront and create a vibrant and inclusive space for everyone to enjoy.