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I am constantly being taken aback by how well our town weathers economic storms - whether that is the recession over a decade ago, the rise in online shopping or indeed the present pandemic. St Helier continues to flourish despite everything, maintaining a much lower level of vacant shops than comparable towns in the U.K. and a higher footfall. There are lots of reasons for our being confident in our capital, including the fact that it is by and large a safe, clean, attractive and welcoming place to spend time and money. St Helier's pre-eminent position has also been helped by wise planning policies which have discouraged out of town shopping, and by the decisions of the States Assembly over the years which have recognised the importance of protecting the town's environmental and heritage assets. Entrepreneurship is clearly a key character trait among Jersey people as we are seeing a steady flow of interest in new start-ups, especially in the hospitality sector, while retailers large and small continue to invest in their premises and in bringing new products to town. Although the current number of empty shops is cause for concern, many of these have resulted from the collapse of U.K. chains, and I am confident that they will find new occupants. However, the planning department will need to be flexible about allowing change of use where empty retail premises are concerned, permitting a restaurant or café, for example, or another service business to operate in the central area that was once reserved for retail. Online shopping is here to stay, and while St Helier will continue to boast a wide range of shops we need to accept the fact that our visitors don't just come to town to shop: they expect a range of cafés, bars and restaurants in which to dine and socialise, as well as other services and activities which may be just a twinkle in the eye of Jersey's entrepreneurs and investors.
Simon Crowcroft, Constable of St Helier
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