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Belgium, Brexit and Beer

Well, I have just returned from Europe – apparently still in one piece – and can report that basically nothing has changed. The £ was a good deal healthier against the euro than September 2019 when I was there last and the Belgian beer and chips tasted the same.

The ‘Why would you?’ attitude has now changed to ‘All the best’ and encouragingly there is a Brexit song in Belgium which I could not begin to translate from the original Flemish although I can tell you that with the locals in full voice it did involve a lot of waving (full hand) to which I, despite not having a clue what they were saying, responded by dabbing my hankie on my eyes – which they appeared to enjoy.

The song which relied heavily on ‘oompah’ influences for its melody was immediately followed by ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ in the Queen’s which again they all seemed to know and joined in heartily. All very encouraging for our future trade negotiations albeit I doubt whether M. Barnier will resort to a similar rendition before sitting down at the negotiating table.

Make no mistake though, the High Streets in Belgium continue to show the same issues that we have here. The two cities I visited of Aalst and Ghent have traditionally supported thriving shopping centres albeit both now show the same strain we are seeing here albeit I do not believe that the locals have yet embraced internet shopping as we have in the UK.

One thing is clear in that a visit to the city centre is a social event as much as anything else with bars and restaurants always busy with people meeting up there and the shopping is complimentary but not the driver.

Crewe Town Centre moves ever more slowly towards redevelopment where my concern is that recent announcements appear to be taking site clearance for the Royal Arcade to the end of this year rather than the middle as previously projected. There remains an element of the coffee shop culture but without the shopping add on, then Crewe is fast falling into an ever deeper hole from which it cannot escape. Nantwich and Sandbach continue to offer a better option for the Belgian culture.

The longer the redevelopment is delayed, the worse things will get with more shops closing. The market hall redevelopment was meant to be done in conjunction with the Royal Arcade and risks falling at the first fence if there is no supporting attraction at the opposite end of the town centre.

Uncertainty remains and will do so for months to come. South Cheshire Development Agency continues to operate in the loan market and is open for business where any operation that sees opportunities in these difficult times is welcome to come and discuss funding needs for growth.

There are always opportunities for start- up businesses and the Development Agency is just one of many support organisations that can help you get established.

I think that we can rely on ‘Hops’ in Crewe along with others to keep our traditional beer ties with our Belgian cousins but if you do seek to engage the finer palates of Crewe and Nantwich with the delicacy that is the thrice fried and tossed Belgian chip then I for one would not discourage you.