Two big-name fashion chains look set to quit Galashiels.
That blow for the town centre follows confirmation by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that it is to relocate its Galashiels JobCentre Plus from its current High Street home to the Channel Street premises currently occupied by Burton and Dorothy Perkins, both clothing brands owned by Philip Green’s Arcadia Group.
The adjacent retail outlets are just a stone’s throw from the former post office and Poundstretcher buildings set to become home to a £6.7m visitor centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland due to open in 2020.
The DWP move from its decade-old home at New Reiver House is part of a streamlining of its underused built estate, reflecting customers’ increased use of the internet to access benefits.
A spokesperson for the department confirmed the impending move will go ahead but was unable to provide details of when it would take place.
The Arcadia Group did not respond to inquiries regarding possible relocation of the two shops and their staff elsewhere in the town or region.
However, in 2013, the group, also including the Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Wallis brands, announced a programme to close up to 260 stores, attributing a fall in profits to an increase in online retailing.
After the recent closure of another Dorothy Perkins shop elsewhere, a company spokesperson said: “We are constantly reviewing our store portfolio, and leases continually expire.
“When leases expire that we do not renew, we endeavour to redeploy staff to another store within the group as much as can.”
The Channel Street outlets were marketed by estate agents as being available for lease last year.
Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for economic development, said he believed the jobcentre move would require planning consent.
“While I would prefer to see retail businesses located on a thoroughfare like Channel Street, it’s also important to minimise the number of empty premises in our town centres,” said Mr Bell.
“I backed the move three years ago to dispense with the planning condition that some main streets should be designated as prime retail frontages and that we, as a planning authority, should view them instead less proscriptively as prime activity areas.
“Under the previous designation, a gym, for example, would not have been allowed in Channel Street, but now that would be permitted.
“The jobcentre is not just an office. It is a place where people go to access information about job opportunities.
“I would certainly rather see it located in Channel Street than see another empty frontage.”