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‘Sibling rivalry’ – which of the Channel Islands’ capitals is a better place in which to live, work and do business? St Peter Port or St Helier?

‘Sibling rivalry’ – which of the Channel Islands’ capitals is a better place in which to live, work and do business? St Peter Port or St Helier?

St Peter Port is almost always described as prettier, or ‘nicer’ than St Helier, and at first sight it seems to have a geographical advantage over us: built on a hillside instead of on a marsh, its houses rising in neat rows above the harbours, and the sea which is deep enough to attract cruise ships (another advantage). Guernsey’s capital has not been spoiled by the ugly rock-armour that surrounds our modern land reclamation, nor by a sea-front incinerator, and tourists from France step ashore with added enthusiasm as St Peter Port hosts the Maison Victor Hugo, a fascinating museum to the great writer who made his home there having been expelled from Jersey in 1853.

Voter equity may not immediately spring to the minds of people when they compare our capital towns, but Jersey does have a problem with unequal representation, and this is particularly true in the capital, St Helier, whose voters have less influence over their government than the voters of the other parishes in Jersey; in St Peter Port, however, there is voter equity, the town deputies numbering 11 out of the 38 members of parliament. As I understand it, Guernsey as a whole enjoys voter equity, which is why I was so disappointed when the States of Jersey recently missed the latest opportunity to introduce 'super constituencies', or voting districts larger than individual parishes.

Another difference between us is that my opposite number, the recently re-elected Constable Dennis Le Moignan, has a ‘Junior Constable’ to assist him in his work, and there is also a Douzaine of twenty elected ‘townies’ who provide a layer of local government that is missing in St Helier. Guernsey’s Constables do not have an automatic right to sit in the Guernsey States, but there’s nothing to stop them standing in the General Election; in fact, it's Jersey's desire to retain the right of all twelve Parish Constables to have an ex officio seat in our parliament that makes it so difficult to achieve voter equity.

In spite of these and other favourable remarks I made to Jersey's Chamber about Guernsey’s capital, I had no real difficulty in nailing my colours to St Helier’s mast by the end of the talk: the geography of our town may make us less attractive when viewed from the sea, but it also offers us space, which is what makes our town centre the more enjoyable place to spend time and money in; St Helier has the breadth which a town built on a hillside cannot offer, while land reclamation over time has added to its area, making room for a number and variety of retail, hospitality and cultural offerings that are probably unrivalled, not only in the Channel Islands, but in any town with a comparable population in Europe. Not that challenges don’t exist; they do, particularly in terms of maintaining the quality of life of the residents who live in our busy, successful Parish. As for St Peter Port, it is a place which I am sure Jersey people can continue to learn from, share ideas with and enjoy visiting - and visiting St Peter Port is a special treat for me as it has a proper second-hand bookshop, which St Helier lacks!

Simon Crowcroft, Constable of St Helier