Hard-hit high streets in the Borders are in for a boost, thanks to a handout of more than £1.4m from the Scottish Government.
Ministers have created a kitty of £50m for the regeneration of town centres nationwide, and £1.421m of that money is to be spent here.
That helping hand for high streets was announced by Holyrood finance secretary Derek Mackay in his budget statement, and it’s been welcomed by Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame and council chiefs in the region.
Ms Grahame said: “This funding announcement can help transform town centres in the Scottish Borders, such as Galashiels and Peebles.
“The health of our town centres is vital to the economic and cultural life of our communities, and this new investment can make a real difference.
“Scottish Borders Council must now ensure that the £1,421,000 is spent wisely to make sure our local town centres reap the benefits of this investment.
“The town centre fund is part of a wider package of business support measures that will help drive economic activity in the Scottish Borders, helping give our local high streets a welcome boost.”
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for business and economic development, added: “The council welcomes this additional funding from the Scottish Government’s town centre fund.
“We recognise the importance of town centres to the economic and social fabric of our region, which is why town centre regeneration is a priority for the council as emphasised in our budget.
“Our focus on town centres is well set out in our economic development strategy, in the town centre index we have used to assess the resilience of our town centres in recent years and in the work being undertaken in respect of Eyemouth and Hawick through their respective working groups.
“Our town centre regeneration action plan already sets out a wide range of activity we wish to see supported.
“We will now assess how best to use this additional money as we bring forward our action plan for 2019-2020.”
The town centre fund, set up in partnership with Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, is intended to help councils ensure their high streets can adapt to changing retail patterns such as loss of trade to out-of-town shopping centres and online businesses such as Amazon.
The money being handed out is to be spent on making town centres more vibrant, enterprising, and accessible by bringing empty buildings back into use, possibly for housing or social and community enterprises.
Mr Mackay said: “Town centres are facing challenges across Scotland in adapting to a changing retail climate, and it is important that we help them to diversify and adjust to overcome these challenges.
“I want to make sure we can keep life in our high streets, and ensure they continue to be thriving places for communities to live, work and enjoy.
“This £50m fund will enable local authorities to stimulate and support a wide range of investments which will encourage town centres to diversify and flourish and create an increase in footfall through local improvements and partnerships.
“It is part of a wider boost to the economy through providing more than £5bn of capital investment to grow and modernise Scotland’s infrastructure and a wider package of support to businesses, including maintaining a competitive business rates package and providing the most generous package of non-domestic rates reliefs anywhere in the UK.”
A report presented to the council in July last year by Charles Johnston, its lead officer for plans and research, revealed that in Hawick, footfall has more than halved since 2007, and Selkirk and Duns have seen reductions of a quarter.
Melrose, Jedburgh, Galashiels and Peebles have all seen falls of between 14% and 18%, but Kelso has managed to return its footfall numbers to 2007 levels following a slump in previous years.
Empty shop fronts are an ever more common sight across the UK, and the Borders is no different, especially Galashiels as its vacancy rate for retail units now stands at 15%.
Hawick and Selkirk lag not far behind, with 14% of their shops lying empty, and 13% of Jedburgh’s are vacant too.