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.