The closure of the House of Fraser store in West Street, Chichester, will be met with mixed emotions.
Some will regret the loss of a favourite retailer.
We are all aware of the serious impact of the loss of jobs.
But this closure also brings an opportunity for us to think more creatively about the sort of city that we want Chichester to be and history offers us an example of how to make a long-term difference.
In 1719 a boarding school was opened on the House of Fraser site, funded by Oliver Whitby, the son of a Church of England clergyman.
It was a bold initiative. The school was to provide free education and social benefit for the poorest in the area. It was amalgamated into Christ’s Hospital in 1949.
As we review the needs of Chichester today, we should recognise that young people are still seriously disadvantaged, in spite of the excellence of the education and skills that they develop at Chichester College and at the University of Chichester.
In particular, the university is expanding its programme of enterprise and innovation, producing graduates who are outstandingly well placed to lead the diversification of the local economy, while also delivering services that will improve quality of life, in health care, leisure and fitness, and art and culture.
Whereas the university’s expansion in Bognor has been welcomed with partnerships that are already beginning to contribute significantly to the town’s regeneration, the response in Chichester seems less encouraging. A harsh assessment, not easily dismissed, is that the response is conservative and unimaginative.
The vacation of a prime site within the city walls challenge us to recover the vision of Oliver Whitby, seeking today’s bold initiative that will encourage social inclusion and mobility for young people.
Good quality accommodation, that is affordable and attractive, is urgently needed in the city for young entrepreneurs.
Formed by studying at university and college locally, how do we enable them to settle and build their future here?
Do we have the imagination and political will to respond positively to their needs, investing in a more inclusive and interesting city?
The benefits for such a development could be significant.
The growth of a young peer group committed to our economic and social future could benefit the ecology of our retail environment, creating the possibility for a more diverse range of shops, as it has done in the London ‘villages’ of Hackney and Walthamstow.
In order to survive, Chichester needs a more vibrant and diverse retail culture.
Individual traders should be enabled to flourish, offering a very welcome alternative to the chains found everywhere else, which are less distinctive and on a much bigger scale.
Portsmouth’s Gunwharf Quay offers that already.
The development of a residential community within the city walls is one of the best ways to ensure a lively city centre that is not fuelled by pubs, excessive drinking and disorderly behaviour.
Other city centres, such as Norwich, Winchester and Exeter, are doing work on this.
Chichester should forge its own response to creating a city centre that is serving the needs of those who live within it.
Central to the best enterprise and innovation today is the role of sustainability and care for the earth’s resources that is at the heart of the green agenda.
Chichester is well placed to take a lead in this, assisted by the advantage of a flat landscape and the potential to develop bicycle use for a wide age-range.
But do we have the political will to make this city a competitor that shames its neighbours by the imaginative development of transport, consumption, retail and education that honours
our best stewardship of the earth?
It was no accident that the opening of Oliver Whitby’s school in 1719 coincided with the expansion of Chichester as the forward-looking Georgian city that it became and is our inheritance.
The imaginative development of the House of Fraser site, and other sites within the city walls, could be an indication that Chichester is poised for a new era of original creativity and development.
Let us again attend to the needs of the rising generations. Love them or lose them. And with them goes the prospect of a vibrant future.
What do you think? We want to know what you think about the city, is it operating to its full potential?
What do you think could be done to improve it? Do you agree young people hold the key to the city’s future success?
Email the newsdesk.