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Tumbleweed? What tumbleweed?
In the recent States' debate, one Member suggested that our town centre is in such dire straits that tumbleweed will soon be seen in the precinct. This is, of course, complete nonsense, as any visitor to town will observe. Yes, there are some 'To Let' and 'For Sale' signs to be seen in the windows of empty shops but St Helier has, as always, far fewer of these than will be seen in towns of comparable size. At the same time, we are seeing premises which have been empty for some time - such as Hamons, boasting alternative signs telling us that they have been let, or are under offer, while shops like Burtons and Top Shop, whose closure was brought about by the collapse of the UK chain, have been the subject of intense bidding wars by local investors. Burger King is re-opening, a new bar is being created in the shop vacated by Jersey Pottery in Waterloo Street, Beghins shoe shop is going to become a new restaurant in King Street, and the former BHS, Austin Reed and Jaeger stores are all having major refurbishments - the list goes on and on.
Part of the health of our town centre is due to the large number of office workers who take advantage of St Helier's many cafes, sandwich bars and restaurants for eating out and socialising, and experts in the field advise me that the improving performance of such businesses indicates that working from home, a necessity during the pandemic, is losing its appeal as staff rediscover the advantages of working face-to-face with colleagues and customers, and of popping out during breaks to enjoy all our town has to offer.
Just as important to the health of our town centre is the growing number of people who are choosing to live as well as to work in town: as more and more outworn offices and hotels are converted into apartments, we can expect to see lots of new town residents for whom having a vibrant town on their doorstep is one of the advantages of urban dwelling. The Parish will continue to do all it can to support our retail, hospitality and service sectors, by providing for al fresco activity where possible and helping businesses deal with the inevitable red tape; we will also do all we can to ensure that town residents have the best possible quality of life, especially in terms of access to green space, good transport links and parking facilities.Simon Crowcroft, Constable of St Helier
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