A helping hand for Borders high streets

Market Square, Duns
Market Square, Duns

Hard-hit high streets in the Borders are in for a boost, thanks to a handout of more than £1.4m from the Scottish Government.

Ministers have created a kitty of £50m for the regeneration of town centres nationwide, and £1.421m of that money is to be spent in the Borders.

That helping hand for high streets was announced by Holyrood finance secretary Derek Mackay in his budget statement, and it’s been welcomed by Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for business and economic development, who said: “The council welcomes this additional funding from the Scottish Government’s town centre fund.

“We recognise the importance of town centres to the economic and social fabric of our region, which is why town centre regeneration is a priority for the council as emphasised in our budget.

“Our focus on town centres is well set out in our economic development strategy, in the town centre index we have used to assess the resilience of our town centres in recent years and in the work being undertaken in respect of Eyemouth and Hawick through their respective working groups.

“Our town centre regeneration action plan already sets out a wide range of activity we wish to see supported.

“We will now assess how best to use this additional money as we bring forward our action plan for 2019-2020.”

The town centre fund is intended to help councils ensure their high streets can adapt to changing retail patterns such as loss of trade to out-of-town shopping centres and online businesses.

The money being handed out is to be spent on making town centres more vibrant, enterprising, and accessible by bringing empty buildings back into use, possibly for housing or social and community enterprises.

A report presented to the council in July last year by Charles Johnston, its lead officer for plans and research, revealed that in Hawick, footfall has more than halved since 2007, and Selkirk and Duns have seen reductions of a quarter.

Melrose, Jedburgh, Galashiels and Peebles have all seen falls of between 14% and 18%, while Kelso has managed to return its footfall numbers to 2007 levels.

Mr Mackay said: “Town centres are facing challenges across Scotland in adapting to a changing retail climate, and it is important that we help them to diversify and adjust to overcome these challenges.”

“I want to make sure we can keep life in our high streets, and ensure they continue to be thriving places for communities to live, work and enjoy.

“This £50m fund will enable local authorities to stimulate and support a wide range of investments which will encourage town centres to diversify and flourish and create an increase in footfall through local improvements and partnerships.

“It is part of a wider boost to the economy through providing more than £5bn of capital investment to grow and modernise Scotland’s infrastructure and a wider package of support to businesses, including maintaining a competitive business rates package and providing the most generous package of non-domestic rates reliefs anywhere in the UK.”