COMMENT: Town would need ‘Superman’ to take on big boys

SMALL Business Saturday on December 5 reminds us all of the importance of championing the independent trader – but unless we support their cause all year, they will be swallowed up by the big boys in the blink of an eye.


Business Picture. Worthing Herald Business Reporter, Oli Poole. ENGSUS00120130620162236
W26306H13OliPoole Business Picture. Worthing Herald Business Reporter, Oli Poole. ENGSUS00120130620162236

By the time this next week, Arun District Council will have decided whether to approve plans for a new Marks and Spencer Simply Food stall along the A259 on the Angmering/Rustington border.

This would be the latest out-of-town outlet to be built and would raise serious questions over the future of traditional centres in Littlehampton and Rustington.

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Traders in Littlehampton were aghast when Tesco was granted permission for a key-cutting and cobbler pod for its Broadpiece store, highlighting the likely impact on independent retailers.

Now experts estimate the Simply Food store would divert 4.7 per cent of trade from Littlehampton and eight per cent for Rustington.

With many traders struggling to make ends meet, I wonder how many could afford to lose this much business.

But don’t worry, help is on hand.

Should the proposals be carried, £214,000 in financial contributions will be pumped into these areas to ‘offset’ the negative impacts.

Nearly half of the funds will pay for the continued presence of a town centre manager for two years.

What happens after that? Does someone wave a magic wand and all the customers apparate back to Littlehampton and Rustington?

Littlehampton’s current town centre manager, John Edjvet, does a good job but with the addition of another out-of-town outlet, he would have to be Superman to mitigate against the estimated impact.

For Littlehampton, the challenge remains to find a suitable tenant for the vacant Waitrose store.

M&S, according to a council report, rejected the St Martin’s site, primarily on physical complaints. As the council’s economic regeneration officer rightly notes, this is more likely an indication of the firm’s confidence in the town centre.

Bognor regeneration is a key focus for Arun at present, while its ‘9 Big Ideas’ for regeneration shows its commitment to improving the offer.

But without attracting an ‘anchor’ tenant in the town, I fear for its future. This must be top priority.

On the other side of the coin, these large chain stores are clearly in demand. They offer convenience at a time when everybody is extremely busy. But spare a thought, on Small Business Saturday, for those smaller retailers, and think about whether you can lend them more support.

December 5 is one day, yet the traders also need your support on the 364 others to stay afloat.