Plan to bring life back to town centres

Eyemouth town centre is faring reasonably well, with under 8% of its shops being empty.
Eyemouth town centre is faring reasonably well, with under 8% of its shops being empty.

A pilot scheme that would bring a greater range of activity to Borders high streets is being tried by Scottish Borders Council.

They hope to stem the tide of empty shops in towns across the region and save the high streets from further decline.

In Hawick, footfall has more than halved since 2007, and Selkirk and Duns have seen footfall reductions of 25% or more over that period.

Melrose, Jedburgh, Galashiels and Peebles have all seen reductions of between 14 and 18%, but Kelso has managed to return its footfall numbers to 2007 levels following a slump in the interim.

Galashiels has been especially hard hit by empty shops - 15% representing a total of 37 empty stores. Hawick and Selkirk lag not far behind, with 14% apiece of their shops lying empty, and 13% of Jedburgh’s shops are also going spare.

Peebles, Kelso, Duns, Melrose and Eyemouth have all kept their proportion of empty shops in their town centres at 8% or below.

A report to councillors this week recommends trying out pilot schemes in Hawick and Galashiels: either scrapping or altering their core activity area status to allow non-commercial enterprises to occupy empty high street properties.

The outcomes of those proposed pilot schemes would then be used to draw up similar proposals for other towns.

Councillor Tom Miers said: “These changes will make it easier for new businesses to invest in our towns.

“We need to move with the times and recognise that high streets are shifting away from traditional retail towards a broader mix of leisure, business and specialist shopping.

“This pilot scheme will test new policies to help that process while preserving the essential character and vibrancy of our towns.

Councillor Mark Rowley added: “We hope the removal of restrictions in Hawick and Galashiels will create more opportunities in both town centres for a more diverse range of businesses which are attractive to residents and visitors alike.”