February is very welcome. For one thing, it kicks out January - a depressing month for many reasons and one we should really abolish!

Our local businesses no doubt welcome the calendar change, drawing out of the days and increased footfall as we get ready for another year trading year, showcasing Helensburgh at its best.

Four years ago the Chamber commissioned a Town Audit, and we have consistently used this document to inform and guide what the Chamber should do in support of local commerce.

Work is ongoing on ventures that assist overall economic growth for the town and its community, including discussions with private investors, at which we always illustrate the underlying attributes that aid Helensburgh’s development and success.

Two of these attributes are the draw of independent retailers and a “highly engaged community”.

Our audit reported that the “town centre is diverse and the retail offering is strong, particularly for a town of its size”. It also found that “the vibrant and abundant calendar of events is testimony to the strong and active voluntary sector in Helensburgh and generates spend and economic growth”.

The Chamber’s independent report, commissioned with no hidden agenda, stressed the importance of these factors.

Five years on, the local community is bracing itself for an announcement on the future plans for the waterfront. Most people suspect a deal is already done to generate the “missing million” from this asset.

Why is no-one questioning where this figure came from, rather than being distracted on what building would you find least objectionable on the site? 

In 2011, Argyll and Bute councillors took a decision to fund a new leisure centre. As a Helensburgh councillor at the time, I voted in favour, as did the whole council.

Some 10 years later, when the centre finally opened, the budget for the development was apparently a million short. Why? What else did we get for the “missing million” that was not funded in the business cases over the intervening years?

I've now been directed to Argyll and Bute Council’s Retail Study update, which is dated January 2024 and is a document in keeping with that month’s reputation for depression.

This is an analytical document prepared by Colliers - apparently to a given remit of proving that what Helensburgh really needs to save it from total decline is a 2,500 square metre retail building on the seafront, housing suggested companies like B&M.

Colliers’ 90 pages of analysis concentrates on spending patterns, but fails to even consider any of the more complex reasons why customers spend in a town of their choosing, such as those pinpointed in our audit.

Helensburgh is much more than the 'convenience goods expenditure pattern' identified in Colliers' report, and for the town’s sake I hope the decision-makers remember this as they seek to fill the 'missing million' void.