The mixed fortunes of Berwickshire towns

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The number of people visiting the region’s town centres has gone up slighlty, while the number of empty shops has remained at around 11%.

Two recent surveys have provided an insight into the health of the our high streets in 2016 and they paint a mixed picture.

In Berwickshire, two towns were surveyed to see how many people were on the high street and while Duns saw an increase of 3% from the previous year, the number in Eyemouth fell by 7%.

The survey reports: “Footfall levels in the Berwickshire towns have fluctuated over the last five years, but have not shown consistent growth or decline over this period. Footfall increased by 3% in Duns this year, but reduced by 7% in Eyemouth.”

The number of empty shops in the region has remained at 11%, compared to a UK vacancy average of 12%, but there are wide variations between the region’s towns.

For the retail vacancy survey, all towns with a population of over 1,000 were looked at and empty shops in Chirnside and Coldstream were among the highest in the Borders - Chirnside (30%), Galashiels second centre (20%) and Coldstream (17%) recording the highest retail unit vacancy rates.

Coldstream’s retail unit vacancy rate has been increasing steadily from a figure of just 4% in 2013, and of the 45 units, nine were vacant in 2016.

Chirnside has 10 shops, three of them empty, while Eyemouth as 69 (five vacant) and Duns 63 (five vacant).

Councillor Ron Smith, SBC’s executive member for planning and environment, said: “These studies are useful in helping us assess the health of our town centres, when read in conjunction with various other measures, and these results show consolidation, which in these still tough economic times is a positive in itself.

“However, there are certainly indications that some of our town centres are struggling, particularly Jedburgh with a further fall in footfall and an increase in vacant shops, and we are already investigating steps to address such issues.

“The council alone cannot revive our high streets and our partners, community groups, businesses themselves and the public have a role to play in ensuring that bustling Borders towns are not a thing of the past.”

Councillor Stuart Bell, executive member for economic development, said: “The recently established Town Centre Resilience Index uses a range of statistics, including footfall and retail vacancies, to help us target council resources for maximum impact in the towns in greatest need.

“These latest figures confirm that we must extend our efforts in Jedburgh and Eyemouth to help their economies,” added Councillor Bell.