The dominance of peripheral supermarkets and the emergence of online retailing are factors which continue to hit town centres in the Borders.
A new report on footfall – considered a barometer of urban vibrancy and reflecting the number of people frequenting traditional shopping areas – has confirmed a downward trend since local monitoring began in 2007.
Between then and last year, average weekly footfall has fallen by 32% across nine town centres, with Hawick, Galashiels and Selkirk suffering most from the slide.
The report by Scottish Borders Council gives data amassed by enumerators in September and October when pedestrians, excluding young children and delivery workers, were counted at key locations between 10am and 5pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
The survey confirms that Galashiels, between Market Street and Island Street, still has the highest footfall of the main towns, closely followed by Peebles, with Kelso replacing Hawick in third place.
The 2007 weekly figure for Galashiels of 9,500 – recorded after the opening of two superstores – plummeted to 7,780 last year which is down 18% and 4% on the year. To compound matters, 19% of retail space in the town centre is now vacant.
Kelso is a notable trend-bucker, recording an average weekly footfall of 4,980 in 2014 – up 21% on the previous year and only 1% lower than in pre-recession 2007. Peebles also appears to be coping well, with an average weekly footfall of 7,610 – up 7% on 2013 but well down on its 2007 peak of 9,840.
In Jedburgh, footfall of 2,610 in 2014 was 3% down on the previous year and down 11% on 2007, although the vacancy rate for retail premises in the town is lower than the regional average at 9%.
It’s a gloomy picture, however, in Selkirk where weekly footfall, at 2,090, was 14% down on 2013 following a 9% decline the previous year with 16% of retail space now vacant.
The report discounts last year’s data from Melrose due to atrocious weather during the days of the survey.
The most startling figures, however, come from Hawick which, back in 2007, had a weekly footfall of 9,680. In 2014 that had slumped to 3,750 which, in itself, was 40% lower than in 2013.
“The succession of large falls in footfall over the last six years was already a concern and the council has set out changes to Hawick’s town centre planning policies to encourage footfall-generating uses,” states the report. “Hawick will continue to require close attention going forward.”