IAN HART Sad end for Somerfield

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THE impending closure of the supermarket in the Guildbourne Centre is regrettable, yet fairly inevitable, as with both Morrisons and Waitrose a stone’s throw away, not to mention Lidl, or the Chapel Road Tesco Express, it was really only a matter of time.

A sad ending for a store that began life with the opening of the shopping centre back in the mid-1970s, as Key Markets.

However, one of its legacies to the town is that one of its former teenage employees, Brian Butcher, has ended up as manager of Marks & Spencer in Montague Street, perhaps one of Worthing’s busiest shops.

But what next for the empty shop in the Guildbourne?

Given the aforementioned competition, a supermarket is clearly out of the question, so could now be the time for town centre manager Sharon Clarke to take up the cudgels and try to attract a top-flight tenant?

A good-sized store, with a multi-storey car park on top of it, in a town centre, it needs a company with no other real competition in that product field, given that the town has a population in excess of 100,000.

Sadly, before its demise as a company, the shop would have been tailor-made for Gamleys, but what’s to stop Mrs Clarke approaching Toys R Us* or even The Entertainer chain?

As I mentioned last month in the run-up to Christmas, Worthing needs a toy shop, so could the Guildbourne be the answer?

*(For all those readers now saying “Harty what about the Goldstone retail park?”, on its website, Toys R Us has neighbouring stores that are closer than from here to Hove).

On the subject of Sharon Clarke, I was told last week a landmark was reached the other day by the fact there is now the least number of empty shops in Worthing since she began as town centre manager.

All very admirable, but it almost put me in mind of that classic phrase about 65 per cent of statistics being made up on the spot.

From what point should we gauge the number of empty shops in the town centre?

From when Montague Street became a precinct in the late-1960s?

Or when Tesco left the said precinct in 1982?

Or when the Odeon was mysteriously de-listed, demolished, and more shops were added to the mix?

Or when Sainsbury’s left Chapel Road and opened at Lyons Farm?

Or when the council surrendered all the parking controls to those wonderful people at NCP?

Don’t get me wrong, filling empty shops is a step in the right direction, but remembering the dole figures under Mrs Thatcher, anything can be made to look better than it actually is.

To my mind, what would be really great is for NCP is to relinquish its duties, leave Worthing and let Sharon Clarke and her team put a parking policy strategy that will attract people back into the town centre.