The proposed retail developments in Central and North Saanich present a huge threat to Sidney. Without joint action between the business community and the town there is no question downtown businesses will be forced to close. When that happens we will not only lose those amenities but homeowners will be paying more property taxes to compensate for the town’s shrinking tax revenue. Moreover, the decline in the quality of the Sidney shopping experience will cause house values to drop because the community will be a much less desirable place to live.
We have seen first hand the effects of this kind of hollowing out of communities when large retail outlets open up on, or close to, the edge of a town. A good example is Market Drayton, in Shropshire, England. Its population is about the same as Sidney and has a similar retail catchment area. In the mid 1990s, Market Drayton had a vibrant and varied retail environment. Butchers, greengrocers, a small supermarket, clothing stores, specialty foods, coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, banks and art galleries made for a delightful experience (sound familiar?).
Upon our return a couple of years ago we found the village centre to be on hard times. At least 50 per cent of the retail and service outlets were closed and the local council could no longer afford to maintain street furniture or planters. In short it looked run down and sad. The reason for this transformation was obvious: a new shopping centre anchored by a large, multi-faceted supermarket had opened on the edge of town. The new site was bustling; the village centre nearly dead. It was a sad transformation and one that faces Sidney today.
We believe that it is time for resolute and coordinated action to promote Sidney as a shopping destination centre, otherwise, in less than five years, we will begin to look like the Market Draytons of this world.