Shopkeepers and residents were asked to be ‘cheerleaders’ for the city at a public meeting last night to address the future of Chichester’s high street.
The meeting, hosted by Chichester BID and the city council, sought to allay concerns over the future of retail, particularly in the face House of Fraser’s departure next year.
In a presentation ahead of a Q&A, BID chairman Colin Hicks reminded the room that the city had been named the fourth most resilient high street in the UK, ahead of Oxford, and urged people to focus on the positives.
He said: “When you go round and say, ‘it’s all full of cafés’ and you say ‘it’s all shutting down, it’s not independents’ – be very careful when you say that because our nearest competitor is Guildford and it’s doing better than us and in this area, it’s the only one that is.
“Everyone’s going to Guildford because we’re all saying ‘it’s shutting down’.”
He pointed to the 14,000 self-employed people in the area as an indication of the city’s role as an ‘entrepreneurial hub’, as well as a destination for art-lovers from as far as London.
Key obstacles for the area were transport issues, such as Southern Rail strikes and the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of the A27, the need to reform ‘unaffordable’ business rates and a high number of listed buildings that could not be as easily adapted.
He said the key was to ‘gift-wrap’ what Chichester already had, with 291 independents and 286 chains in the BID area, and appealed for help launching a volunteer-run scheme to help direct people around the city.
“I think we have to play to our strengths,” he said. “Future shoppers are playing to their convenience, can I find it when I want it, when I look for it, will it be there.”
Questioners raised the issue of needing major brands to draw in shoppers to browse in independent stores, noting that 40 such brands stood to be lost when House of Fraser moved out.
Another shopkeeper voiced concerns about the future of retail, given the chain’s departure.
“They didn’t find out they’d lost their jobs until they read it on the news,” she said. “How is anyone meant to feel secure as a retailer?”
District council leader Tony Dignum told the meeting the House of Fraser site owner, Savills, was working with the council as to ‘possibilities’ for the site.
Louise Goldsmith, county council leader, thanked Mr Hicks in closing, echoing ‘don’t talk it down’.