Gala councillor calls for retailer incentives

Parts of Channel Street are littered with empty retail premises
Parts of Channel Street are littered with empty retail premises

A Galashiels councillor has called part of the town a disaster area in terms of empty shops and has urged more to be done to attract new firms.

Bill White made the comment at a meeting of the council’s economic development group last week, when he asked what incentives were available to retailers to get vacant shops filled before the railway opens.

Mr White was supported by Selkirk councillor Michelle Ballantyne, who said: “If we are creating the hub point at Galashiels we have to get Gala right in order to get the rest of the Borders right, because that will be the entry point.”

Mrs Ballantyne added: “Once people arrive and can touch the tourist information screens that are going to be there they are much more likely to stay, and move outwards. We need to be less parochial in order to get the benefits for everybody.”

Speaking to The Southern this week, Mr White said: “My fear is that big retailers are going to sit and wait until the railway arrives to see if people will come to Gala, and if people come to Gala and wander through there as it is now are they ever going to come back?

“Is there some incentive to get the retailers here earlier so they are established when the first trippers come off the train?”

Mr White also called for discussions to be held with landlords to investigate if rents are prohibitively high for some retailers.

He added: “It was good to get encouragement from other members that yes, we need to do something in Gala because if we don’t people will never come back again.”

An SBC spokesman said: “The council is aware of the number of vacant shops in local town centres, including Galashiels and Hawick.

“Smaller shops can benefit from discounted rates bills through the Small Business Bonus Scheme, but this incentive is not available to larger businesses.

“In anticipation of the opening of the Borders Railway, the council will work with Galashiels Chamber of Trade and local businesses to develop a range of initiatives that can support the town centre.”

He added: “The opening of the railway will provide major opportunities for new business activity in Galashiels and the council wants to help local businesses take advantage of those.”