A Galashiels businesswoman has called for urgent action to improve the look of the town centre – and opportunities for small firms.
Zara Pryde established Pinhead body-piercing studio in 2009, but has had to move from her High Street shop.
“I was told a few months ago that my landlord had been declared bankrupt and the shop was being repossessed and I was forced to look for new premises,” she said.
“Despite there being almost 30 empty units in Galashiels, I really struggled to find somewhere suitable and affordable.
“My main issue was with business rates, which can be an extra £200-£400 a month for a small shop on top of rent, which becomes a problem for small businesses like myself.”
Zara added: “The rateable value of a property should reflect the location, size and the value at which it can be rented.
“This has changed significantly since the recession as the value of properties has decreased, but the cost of business rates has remained the same.”
With the upcoming arrival of the railway and transport interchange, Zara believes something must be done now.
“Most of the biggest empty shops are at Douglas Bridge, right next to the new interchange, which will be the first sight for people travelling to Galashiels – which does not look good.
“These are owned by an Edinburgh company with high asking rents and which do not qualify for any reduction on business rates.”
Councillor Stuart Bell, executive member for economic development, said SBC was only able to offer rates relief in “exceptional circumstances”, but added that the Scottish Government’s Small Business Bonus scheme can provide relief of between 25 and 100 per cent in certain instances.
Mr Bell added: “The council is very aware of Douglas Bridge as a key entry point into the town centre from the new transport interchange and has plans and budget committed with the capital programme to target Douglas Bridge and other links to the town centre for upgrading.”
He added that advice on what support is available can be obtained from Business Gateway.
Zara has found a property in Overhaugh Street, and will open there early next month.