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Guernsey’s Retail Sector is in Pretty Good Shape

Contact caught up with Tony Rowbotham Guernsey Retail Strategy Group Chairman to learn more about the new island retail strategy and what changes we might expect to see.

The culmination of 18 months’ hard work, research, investigation and discussion, A Retail Strategy for Guernsey was published last month. Produced by the Retail Strategy Group, the 73 page document provides 31 strategic proposals for Guernsey’s key retail zones to guide future decision-making and thought processes of stakeholder groups in both the private and public sectors.

We asked Tony how the report came about in the first instance:

‘Commerce and Employment had recognised that despite the major role played by the local retail sector (employing just short of 4,000 people), there was no strategy in place. They acknowledged that the project would benefit from input from the private sector to give a balanced view. So this whole process has been a private/public partnership throughout.’

Tony explained that the contents of the report are not meant to be dictatorial in any way:

‘None of our proposals can be forced on anyone, but the report is there as a working document for landlords, retailers and States Departments to guide their thinking and policy making going forward. We believe that we will get a positive response from the respective groups – the retailers are very receptive to any help we can give and the landlords of course will equally benefit from improved retail profitability. We have also been in discussion with the relevant States Departments throughout the whole process – they are very supportive.’

So what is the current state of our shopping areas – is the High Street dying, victim of online retail? Tony was keen to stress that Guernsey is in pretty decent shape:

‘The health of the retail sector in Guernsey is reasonably robust. Looking at the UK, the smaller southern towns – often similar to St Peter Port in terms of having additional historical attraction – are doing pretty well as are the large out-of-town shopping centres. The town centres that fall into neither category – too small to attract a John Lewis and not having any naturally attractive topography – are really struggling.’

And there are facts and figures to support Tony’s optimistic outlook on the state of our town:

‘At the beginning of this exercise, there were 13 empty shops in the core area of town. The number had reduced to three when we looked again at in early December – a positive sign that our retail sector is adapting to a changing environment and to different shopping habits of the general public.

‘There is no doubt that the internet is having some effect, but there are still many things that people will always prefer to buy over the counter.’

And is the Group concerned about the changing ‘face’ of our retail areas, shops giving way to coffee shops?

‘No. Shopping has changed. It’s no longer motivated purely by need, but has become very much a leisure activity and this is a world-wide trend. Coffee shops and restaurants are a key part of the whole shopping experience – they attract people into the retail centres as well as encouraging them to stay longer. You stay longer, you buy more!’

And what about St Sampsons? Tony believes that no one will invest in the Bridge area until there are definitive decisions on Leale’s yard as there are too many uncertainties surrounding the area:

‘Long term it’s not acceptable to have no development in Leale’s yard. The Bridge has a lot going for it, but no landlord is going to invest until it’s clear what is happening there.

‘We need to see new proposals from the Co-op – which I understand to be imminent; we can’t leave the area to stagnate, so something has to happen. Maybe a larger element of residential and less retail. The right balance between these two elements will only benefit everyone in the longer term.’

So what happens next? Tony is determined that the report will generate action:

‘In 2014 we will take elements of the report and start getting some real engagement from interested parties – for example we are recommending the appointment of a Town Centre Manager whose remit will be to improve the retail environment for all involved.

‘We will be working with the Environment Department looking at improved signage; considering areas where there might even be retail development – a difficult one but there are opportunities. Equally we are not averse to talking to national brands interested in opening in the island (a lack of choice is often cited by the public as a major ‘gripe’ about our town) recognising the importance of balancing that against the need to support our local traders, but at the end of the day, more choice in our shops will mean less internet shopping on Amazon.’

Tony emphasised the pragmatic nature of the report’s recommendations:

‘We wanted to avoid including ‘grand visions’. Everything in here is deliverable and that was one of our key aims. Our fundamental approach is:

“Retail in Guernsey is generally in good shape – how can we make it better still?”‘






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