If we are to maintain an Island identity, room must be made for small firms that are the backbone of our economy

I was saddened by a conversation I had with a café owner, 'Mad Mary’ of Bouley Bay fame. Like the Hungry Man at Rozel or Colleens at Grève de Lecq, these businesses have almost legendary status among the local population

Opinion from David Warr

WHAT a spectacular bank holiday weekend it was. Jersey at its best, wall-to-wall sunshine combined with the hustle and bustle of our favourite beachside cafés that give added personality to each cove around the Island.

I was therefore saddened by a conversation I had with one such café owner, namely ‘Mad Mary’ of Bouley Bay fame. Like the Hungry Man at Rozel or Colleens at Grève de Lecq, these businesses have almost legendary status among the local population.

Her issue lies with the long-awaited redevelopment of what once was the Water’s Edge Hotel. It’s a site that has been in need of TLC for some time now. Plans have changed over the years and now it appears that the place will be turned into a private dwelling.

The problem from Mary’s perspective is that her business does not appear to be part of the plan.

It struck me that she is not unique in her concern.

Last weekend I also visited Grève de Lecq. It was packed and almost impossible to park anywhere. This is the bay where the Seaside Café (formerly Café Romany) is currently up for redevelopment. Under the scheme a significant number of parking spaces will be removed. If last weekend was anything to go by this will have a significant impact on the economics of those businesses providing services to the many beachgoers.

Fewer customers equals less custom and will impact the long-term viability of these service providers.

The Portelet Bay café is another business that faces a hugely hostile residential audience as they attempt to develop an additional terrace for their customers. They have done much to bring this beautiful bay back to life for the enjoyment of so many people yet have to battle daily for their very existence.

This leads me on to an initiative being launched by Assistant Chief Minister Carolyn Labey. ‘The Island Identity Project seeks to understand how members of the public, parishes, businesses and organisations value Jersey: what makes it special and why it matters; and seeks ways to improve, nurture and promote the Island as it positions itself for the future in a globalised world.’

These are fine words but what exactly do they mean and what are they attempting to deliver?

I’ll endeavour to apply the IIP initiative to my three examples. While I do not wish to criticise people who are willing to invest significant sums of money in this Island there has to be a balance between what is good for that individual and what is good for the Island.

There will always be tensions but if we are to hold on to our Island’s identity it’s important that we accommodate all those quirky traits we all know and love and which add to the rich tapestry of our Island.

In the case of Bouley Bay why would you destroy a business that is so distinctive to that bay simply because to some it’s an irritation and now there is an opportunity to kick it into touch? If we start thinking like this then we really will have lost our soul.

As for Grève de Lecq, it’s chaotic, but it works. Trying to find a parking space can sometimes be like trying to find a needle in a hay stack but while there is plenty of available parking there’s always a chance of a space.

Cut parking opportunities down and you simply turn away custom. For those who want to see fewer cars on the road try cycling out of Grève de Lecq.

Electric cars are on their way, so where is the infrastructure plan to provide spaces for individuals wishing to charge their vehicles while visiting the beach? We need good solutions to ensure that we retain this nebulous ‘Island Identity’.

Finally to Portelet Bay, which has been transformed by the reintroduction of a café. This little gem had been lost to the general public for many years before being taken on by the current owners. Despite the complete lack of public infrastructure in the form of a car park or any assistance with the clearing of the smothering Hottentot fig on the cliff face, this business has been a magnet for Islanders and visitors alike. Yet despite their public popularity, private investors who live above the café have been withering in their criticism of any external development of the café.

As I said earlier I have no wish to criticise those who invest in this Island, after all many a near derelict farm has been saved by individuals with the resources to turn them into spectacular homes. However if we are to maintain an Island identity, room has to be made for those hundreds of small businesses that are the backbone of our economy; they make Jersey, Jersey.

To plagiarise a famous saying: ‘I don’t know what the Island’s identity is but I sure as hell know it when I see it.’ Long live the ‘Mad Mary’s’ of this world.

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