I’ve lived in the Channel Islands for nearly two decades. It’s always struck me as odd that people generally think of the UK when referring to “the mainland”. Surely the French coast is our mainland?
That’s why my trip to Brittany this week has been so fascinating. It started with a visit to Rennes Airport where bosses are positioning themselves as a regional hub, keen to shout about their 30 or so destinations including Barcelona and Amsterdam. But they’ve two other destinations on their radar: Guernsey and Jersey.
Talks are underway with airlines to open up a regular year-round service. And before you remind me about previous failed attempts to make a success of Paris, Dinard and other lost links, they have a plan.
And that’s because a bunch people in Brittany have got together to make the proposition stack up. And it’s a proposition that will include additional sea freight links between St Malo and the islands. They’re working to turbo charge relations ready to capitalise on whatever Brexit throws up.
A man called Brian from the Franco-Anglo Chamber of Commerce in Paris is working with a businessman called David who’s from Jersey but does lots of work in Dinan. Together they’ve forged good relations with Guernsey and Jersey’s Chambers of Commerce, Jersey Business, Start-Up Guernsey and others to get enough key people to see the bigger picture.
Factor in the hospitality college in Rennes sending students for placements in the islands and you solve our local staffing problems. You also start putting bums on seats on the plane. More business relations between the region means more business travellers who can now also get their cargo onto more boats.
Add in a handful of leisure travellers attracted by a short flight to Rennes and perhaps an onward fast train to Paris and you’ve suddenly got a proposition that stacks up.
Where are our governments in all this? You’ll see they’re not currently part of the picture because the travails of live Brexit negotiations prevent it.
But it’s safe to say they’re watching all this closely and they like what they see. If it works, it’s a win win for the Channel Islands and the Brittany region.
And having travelled around the area to meet this “get it done” cast of characters, I wouldn’t bet against them succeeding.
We hear so much about the uncertainty thrown up by Brexit, but this masterplan shows there’s also opportunity.
Watch Gary Burgess' full report here: