Business leaders have welcomed plans to boost trade in Hawick and Galashiels town centres by relaxing planning regulations.
Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee has agreed to no longer restrict the types of business allowed to open in Hawick’s High Street for a one-year trial period.
In Galashiels, however, the committee agreed to retain restrictions on the types of business permitted to open in Channel Street and Bank Street, but it did agree to take a more flexible approach allowing previously-barred businesses to trade there.
The impact made by those changes will be assessed over the next year, and if the pilot project is judged a success, it will be tried out in the region’s other towns too.
The Federation of Small Businesses has welcomed that move.
Garry Clark, its development manager for the east of Scotland, said: “The nature of retail is changing right across the country, and the Borders is no exception to current trends.
“The demise of large retailers and moves to out-of-town and online retail – driven by customer demand – are all putting pressure on our town centres.
“Councils need to be imaginative and agile in their response to this, and that is exactly what Scottish Borders Council has done.
“These changes could, for example, make it easier for a struggling shop to be turned into a thriving café.
“We have long called for greater flexibility of planning rules to enable a quicker and smoother transition from one type of business to another in our town centres.
“As the need for large retail space diminishes, our towns must adapt or decline.
“Our future high streets must embrace a broader variety of retail, commercial and residential uses if we are to retain their character at the centre of our communities.
“Scottish Borders Council is to be congratulated for making it easier to do business in town centres like Hawick and Galashiels, and we hope that this enlightened attitude will open the door to new opportunities for local businesses.”
Galashiels retailer Naomi Harrod, boss of the Wool Shop in High Street since last month, has also given the plans the thumbs-up.
She said: “I’m fully supportive of this. If you go around the town centre, there are currently 26 empty premises, and I’d much rather see those shops open and creating footfall.
“It’s all about a variety of premises, and to have those empty shops filled would be amazing. It’s definitely a good idea.”