County council leader: House of Fraser closure ‘a blow’

Louise Goldsmith
Louise Goldsmith

“We all know that High Streets are struggling at present so the news that House of Fraser is closing its Chichester store is a big blow at an already challenging time.

“The store once known as Morants then taken over by the Army and Navy to become the House of Fraser.

“The building started life in 1906 as a newly constructed building and used as a school, long before state education.

“Known as the Oliver Whitby School founded in 1705 for the purposes of educating the poor children of Chichester and surrounding parishes, it became known as the Bluecoat School because of the long blue coats worn by scholars – this school merged with Christ’s Hospital.

“Although no longer a school since 1949 over time it has become almost an institution part of the fabric of Chichester.

“A much loved and favoured store by so many residents and visitors will be no more.

“At this point I need to declare an interest as I have been shopping in the store for the last 38 years. I, like many others, will miss it - particularly round Christmas.

“For the staff employed this is devastating news.

“How to make town centres vibrant and inviting to attract more visitors was a discussion I had earlier this week with the West Sussex County Council economic team. “We are planning an event this autumn to discuss this important issue with key partners across the county, including the Observer, who I hope will be joining in to help with this important debate.

“A key factor to discuss will be that many people now buy online; of course with busy lives it is very convenient. So where does that leave the town centre? Clearly we need to innovate and change to future proof these important community and economic hubs.

“We know that events are good at attracting people into towns to explore what is on offer, have a coffee, lunch or tea. Perhaps now is the time to find solutions for creating more space for people to meet up and socialise.

“We all have to work together to find the right offer for each of our wonderful historic and interesting towns in West Sussex. This needs creative thinking and building on our strong partnership working to find some answers to the knotty question of the future of town centres.

“We also need to improve transport links including sustainable bus and bike links to provide easy access to our towns.

“This week West Sussex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Infrastructure Bob Lanzer has taken the decision on its preferred option on the A27 Chichester route. The preferred option is a northern route with a southern route as a reasonable alternative option.

“I spoke about these two options at a meeting of the county council’s Environment, Communities and Fire Select Committee on Monday 4 June.

“I voiced my concerns that the full southern option has a significant challenge and timetable.

“It could result in up to four to five years of construction on the current A27 route which would add a barrier to those wanting to visit the Cathedral City of Chichester and the many other visitor attractions in the area.

“There are other destinations across the UK who are starting out address the town centre issue and having some success working on a sense of place– so there is hope and some good examples but we are lucky with Chichester – it has a strong sense of place, a sense of uniqueness and amazing history right back to the Romans –so there is much to build on but there is much more work to be done.

“In the meantime I say a very fond but sad farewell well to House of Fraser.”