Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You can't always blame the planning dept!

Representatives of the firm that owns a large chunk of the north of St Helier, the regeneration of which is key to the future or this part of the Parish, came to see me last week to say they were going to pull the plug on the development. As it was the first I had heard of any problems I asked them to allow me to act as 'honest broker' with the planning dept to see what could be done to save the scheme. I had spent much of the previous day with the Minister and Chief Officer of planning and knew that as far as they were concerned the scheme was on course to follow the Millennium Town Park in the much needed uplift of this part of town. The developers, however, were not interested in any assistance I might have been able to give. I think that's a shame, especially after the way public expectations have been raised that the regeneration of northern St Helier was on the way to becoming a reality.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sneak preview of comments in next issue of 'Town Trader' magazine

Responding to a recent question in the States the Minister of Transport & Technical Services stated that the latest survey of parking availability in town showed that around half of the spaces in the public car parks have space at various times of the day. I put it to him that we need to bring back some kind of real-time information screen on the approach roads to St Helier that conveys this good news to motorists. The Minister reacted positively to the idea but I wonder how long it will take? His answer also revealed that the user-friendly alternative to paycards, the long-awaited 'pay on exit' parking system due to be trialled this year in Sand Street car park, has now been put back till the autumn. I also asked the Minister to consider introducing incentives to encourage shoppers to make the trip into town, such as 'first hour free' and/or 'free from 3pm', as the price of a paycard has now risen to such a level that it deters some people from popping into town to make a few purchases which they can more conveniently make from an out-of-town shop where there are no parking charges.

The occasional prophet of doom in respect of the town's future hasn't, I think, been to St Helier recently. We know footfall is down and retail sales have slumped, due mainly to the recession and competition from online shopping, but you can't sit in a pleasant town square on the internet, or chat face to face with friends over a coffee or a snack. And in spite of recent bad weather, town is gradually coming more safe, clean and attractive, thronged with tourists, including the innovative guides dressed in the uniform of the 1781 Jersey Militia, while events such as the recent 'container art galleries' on Weighbridge Place occur on a regular basis.

Town businesses can nominate an representative or 'mandataire' to vote in Parish Assemblies (for more info' please contact the Town Hall or visit the website which means that every business in St Helier can have a say in how much will be paid in parish rates this year. On Wednesday 11th July the previous year's accounts will be presented and budgets for the new financial year and all town traders are encouraged to come along.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Retail therapy

Recently I was talking to a retailer who told me he and his staff had not sold a single item during the previous day. That’s eight hours of trading, with fixed costs – rent, wages, social security, rates, utilities – with not a penny in income. I am sure that this is not an isolated example as I am being told that things are very tough indeed ‘on the high street’. True, there continue to be new businesses ready to step into the shoes of the ones that close in the precinct; true, our town centre is less at the mercy of out-of-town shopping than is the case elsewhere. We are also seeing the benefits of visible policing, increased resources for street cleansing, and plans are underway to increase the amount of litter bins (including recycling bins) and benches around town. But urgent action is needed if St Helier is to continue to beat healthily as the Island’s retail heart. Richard MacKenzie, the Town Centre Manager, has come up with a number of ways of reversing the present decline in footfall, including such ideas as making parking free after 3pm each day. Given that there is always plenty of space for parking in Pier Road multi-storey he is suggesting that some of the commuter parking in the Esplanade car park is replaced with shopper parking, and that the entire car park at Ann Court is given over to short-stay shopper parking on Saturdays. The trial of a simpler way of paying for parking in Sand Street car park is overdue, and I would like to see a change in the way parking fines are handed out, having too often been on the receiving end of letters, emails, phone calls and tearful explanations of how a simple error with a paycard has put a person off ever trying to park in town again. And what's happened to the amendment that I made to the Island Plan whereby the Harbours dept are supposed to be converting some of the rented parking spaces on the Albert Pier to shopper parking? It’s high time everyone involved in the important process of getting shoppers into town, including several States departments, the Parish, and the Chamber of Commerce, work together to make sure that St Helier’s retailers see more shoppers this summer, not fewer.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dramatic improvement

The challenge of maintaining the appeal of town in the face of competition from internet shopping and people's natural reluctance to spend money in a recession has been the subject of several meetings I have attended recently. Thanks to an initiative from the Chamber of Commerce working in partnership with the Parish's Town Centre Manager, we now have 'footfall counters' which give reliable information about how busy the town is, allowing comparison to be made with previous years' performance both here and in other town centres. There is no doubt that retailers, restauranteurs and the rich variety of entrepreneurs based in St Helier are having an increasingly tough time meeting their overheads, let alone making a profit, in the face of declining numbers of people coming to town.

I have been particularly vocal about the need to change our parking system to free up more spaces for shoppers and visitors, to make payment simpler and fines much less punitive, but there are other factors, too. Take customer care, for example. The last two meals I've eaten out couldn't be more different: the first one featured a cold plate, loud background music, a tiny garnish masquerading as a salad, with 'Are you enjoying your meal, Sir?' asked in a deadpan way as if by rote (how many of us are going to send it back, anyway?) The next meal out started with a compliment on the colour of my sweater, a choice of tables, plates whisked away as soon as they were finished with, piping hot coffee topped up without having to ask for it, and so on. I shook the dust off my feet as I left the first establishment; the second one I will return to and recommend to others.

In the city of Hull there is an initiative developed by the playwright, John Godber, which uses drama to convey to people the difference it can make to a customer when the person who deals with them is well informed, courteous, thoughtful, prepared and interested; anyone who provides a service to the public whether in the private or public sector is being encouraged to take part and it's apparently having lots of beneficial effects on the community as well as improving the visitor experience.

While there are numerous examples of excellence in customer care, and the Parish recently re-started Customer Care Awards to recognise this, there is always room for improvement, and I am thinking of taking a leaf out of Hull's book. Perhaps if Mr Godber could be persuaded to visit us we could also get one of his plays staged at the Arts Centre or Opera House - he is, after all, the third most performed playwright in the UK behind William Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thou art indeed just, Lord ...

Thou art indeed just, Lord … but why did that boy I met with the shaven head –
he’d kicked over the litter bin and was jumping about as if it were a bed
of dry leaves in the park – wear such a manic grin?
He distributed the stuff as fast as I tried to put it back in,
and so we struggled, (literally, in my case, given the state of my back,) youth
versus age, until he tired of my empty threats and mild reproof
and went off with his mates to upset the bin in the next street, no doubt,
or ring the bells and bang on the windows of folk too scared to come out …
What’s the point, Lord, of the work I do? Why shouldn’t I despair
as this boy with dismal CAT score and prison-ready hair
goes capering in his Doc Martens through the civic beds
while people whose hair goes thin or grey upon their heads
question the whereabouts of his parents? I question that, too,
but more pressing, Lord, I question the whereabouts of you.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Don't shade your eyes, plagiarise!

The new community market that kicks off this Friday in the Town Hall has been plagiarised from St Lawrence, so thanks to Constable Deirdre Mezbourian (pictured). Last year I was taken up to the St Lawrence Parish Hall to see their monthly market for myself and decided that we need one of those in St Helier. We are starting out with bric-a-brac and car boot type stalls, but if it's a success we will copy St Lawrence further and provide food. Unlike our western cousin, we don't have parking on the doorstep, however, which is a problem both for the stall holders and would be visitors. Given that there is so much empty space in Sand Street car park for most of the time, it begs the question why that car park can't be changed to allow folk to park for more than the 3 hour maximum. I will take this up with the Minister of TTS as people frequently tell me that they can't attend functions in the Town Hall as the nearest car park prohibits them from staying for long enough. Which seems pretty daft. Meanwhile, we are exploring how we can increase the capacity of the Parish-owned car park at Lempriere Street, as if the Town Hall had a decent sized off-street car park we could provide much more in the way of community markets and the like. Anyway, come along on Friday 9 March between 10am and 2pm and snap up a bargain.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An electrifying experience

This week I've been test driving a Peugeot electric car for the JEC. It's the first electric car I've driven and it's been an unalloyed pleasure being behind the wheel. It's perfect for town traffic as when stuck in a queue you are neither wasting petrol nor creating air pollution; the silence is golden (there's a good radio too). I particularly like the gauge which shows you how the battery is getting charged as you decelerate, which encourages better driving, as you tend to allow the car to slow down that way rather than using the brakes. It's got plenty of power for accelerating out of difficulty, and its range seems ideal for island life. 'Filling up' at home is convenient, easy and, I guess, cheap. The silent running of the car does mean you have to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists, but I do that anyway, so it's not a problem. The only obstacle in the way of my putting in an order for one is the price, rumoured to be in the tens of thousands. But if this one is going begging at a knock down price after the trial, I would certainly be interested.