Progress made so far on an action plan to revive Hawick’s ailing economic fortunes has been welcomed by councillors there.
Endorsed by Scottish Borders Council in June, the blueprint is based on issues raised in February in the aftermath of the closure, with the loss of 180 jobs, of Hawick Knitwear.
The action plan – led by the council, Scottish Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland – focuses on three themes designed to make the town a “great place” to live, work and visit.
The aspirational programme received an extra boost in September after the Scottish Government announced a £3.625m package of regeneration support to encourage new business start-ups and retain growing enterprises in the town.
Yesterday’s full council meeting heard that the plan’s partners were in the process, in consultation with Future Hawick and elected members, of drawing up plans on how to spend the windfall, for which detailed capital spending commitments must be in place by March 31 next year.
A report by the council’s chief economic development officer, Bryan McGrath, gave an update on other positive developments, including a feasibility study for the extension of the Borders Railway south of Tweedbank and the prioritisation by the Scottish Government of the A7 trunk road for future improvements.
He said several meetings involving partners and businesses had taken place to discuss, among other things, options for empty buildings in the town.
Other key developments include the opening of two hotels, the 12-room Mansfield Park Hotel and 10-room Balcary House Hotel; the inward investment announcement by knitwear firm McGeorge of Scotland, moving into the old Langlands Mill; and the opening by Borders College of a centre for business development at its Hawick campus, the meeting heard.
Initiatives for next year included the development of a tourism group of key operators, a marketing strategy and an events calendar.
Commending the progress made already, Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall told yesterday’s meeting at Newtown: “I’m encouraged by the amount of work that is being done to keep the momentum going.
“I also know that the people of Hawick are watching us all very carefully on how we continue to progress and, more importantly, deliver this action plan for the town.”
Fellow ward councillor Watson McAteer concurred, saying: “I hope the spirit of positive collaboration between all Hawick councillors continues and that we work towards a common goal.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor David Paterson highlighted the number of disused factory buildings in the town and called for them to be put to better use.
“I would like to get it costed to see what we can do to take over disused factory buildings in the town that are now way past saving and just a haven for rats and pigeons,” he said.
“Visitors don’t want to see that, and I feel it portrays a lot of negativity.
“I would like this to be given some kind of priority because no one wants to come to a town that is full of disused, rat-infested old mills. That should be one thing we should be doing.
“We should also be trying to ensure that we save the existing jobs in the town by actually taking on board and listening to and encouraging the wealth-creators in our town to try and expand wherever possible.”