Thursday, 11 June 2015

Charity’s Bid to Take Winston Churchill Park from Public

Charity’s Bid to Take Winston Churchill Park from Public

I see that there is a “Proposal to develop Winston Churchill Memorial Park into a Major Attraction” (JEP headline). This is by the Jersey Botanic Garden Trust which is planning to lease the park from the States for a minimum of 99 years, and say that within five years the garden will have an income of £720,000 per annum.

This must be a blessing for the States, who have already cut back on gardeners to the park, and can sit back and get money for the area without having to do anything. Expect a lot of support from a cost cutting Council of Ministers.

As the JEP notes: “The Trust will be raising the funds to convert the park, and it will then be self funding through entry costs and annual membership fees”

This means, of course, that the park would no longer be open to the general public: “It is proposed that an adult ticket would cost £9 but a small section of the park would remain free to visit”

“The Trust hope to create a spectacular garden and education centre that will attract paying visitors all year round, especially during the spring”.

Whether the steps running up the side are included or are part of the “small section” is at present uncertain. What is the case is that a park which the States bought is about to be flogged off and taken out of being a public asset to a private enterprise.

I was at the park speaking to BBC Radio Jersey, earlier in the year, about Winston Churchill, and how the park got its singular name, but in future I would have to pay £9 to visit.

While it is perhaps true that the park is not frequented by large numbers of the public, it is a public asset, like Les Creux, and the public should surely have some say over its disposal. It is a 99 year lease, but for most of us, that is a lifetime.

There are undoubtedly questions to be raised: would the park be better served as a private asset? If the enterprise should not prove viable, what will happen to the park? When visitor numbers are declining, how can the Trust hope to raise the suggested income? And where are they finding £2 million from to invest in the site? Is it by borrowing?

At present, it seems like an opportunistic kind of theft from the general public, for which the States receive money and can dispense with running costs. I hope that it is not rushed through without proper deliberation and consultation.

In fairness, having now checked the Facebook group, I see that the Facebook group, but not the JEP, does mention “public consultation in coming weeks” although that is vague. They have been dropping leaflets off to parishioners in the Bay. But they should also consider a leaflet drop through the Parish magazine to engage the whole Parish.

I think that a Parish Assembly should be also be held to consider the proposal, and take a vote on the matter, especially as the Constable is in favour (according to the JEP). In fact, I gather that all that has ever been said is that it is an interesting proposition would be investigated. That's not what I would term support by the Constable - the JEP is incorrect.

After all, this is land bought by the States for the public for a considerable sum. Might it set a precedent? What if Noirmont was also up to be leased out to another charity, perhaps the National Trust, and a toll gate and entrance fee put in place?

In the meantime, here is a potted history of the park, which I researched and wrote up in two articles for our Parish Magazine La Baguette.

Confused signs Where or what is Woodford?
Have you ever been confused by the sign at the end of the promenade in St Brelade's, just next to the Oyster Box? It informs the public that if these toilets are closed, the nearest available ones are to be found in "Woodford". But where is Woodford?

In 1961, after the death of Mr P. Ellis, a property called "Woodford" in St Brelade's Bay came on the market. Bob Smale, a St Brelade Deputy at the time, put forward a private members proposition for the States to acquire the property and the extensive gardens, and turn them into a park for the benefit of Islanders. This was taken up by the Defence, Tourism and Natural Beauties Committees, whose members all favoured the purchase of the property on behalf of the public of the Island, and the Public Works Committee, was assigned the task of negotiating for its purchase.

A letter was received from Mr Vernon Tomes (later to become Deputy Bailiff and Senator) who represented the heirs of the estate, and this confirmed that his clients were prepared to sell the property to the States for the sum of £60,000. The total cost, after legal fees, was £61,000.

The park itself was originally called "Woodford Park", and so remained until 1966, when it was renamed "The Winston Churchill Memorial Park", and it is in the car park adjacent to this park that 'the nearest alternative public toilets' can be found.

Accident of history More than a car park, but a memorial park.
In 1961, the States agreed to the purchase of "Woodford Park" on behalf of the public of the Island. But the park was not given its present name of "The Sir Winston Churchill Memorial Park" until 1966. The reason for this was one of those curious accidents of history.

The Jersey Evening Post had sponsored a memorial to the late Sir Winston Churchill, who had died in 1965 by way of a "penny fund" with members of the public contributing. The Public Works Committee was tasked with finding a suitable site, and suggested The Royal Square was the best place, but the States decided otherwise. Consequently, the Committee had to quickly find another suitable locale, and decided to put the memorial in Woodford Park, and rename the park accordingly.

On 5th December 1966, the Bailiff, Sir Robert Le Masurier unveiled the memorial. Also present on the chilly December morning were Lady Le Masurier, Mr Arthur Harrison of the JEP, the President of Public Works, Deputy Reg Jeune, and Mr M.B. Gulliver of Etacq Quarries, together with around 70 members of the general public

The bronze relief portrait of Sir Winston Churchill's head and shoulders was sculpted by Mr Anthony Gray. The memorial stone on which it sits is made from a naturally hewn granite from L'Etacq. To keep the natural hew, only the base of the stone was worked, and also the panel for the inscription; the remainder of the stone is as it was when it came out of the quarry. It is a fine monument to the great war time leader.

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