A Galashiels businessman has poured cold water on claims his town has been given a retail boost by the Borders Railway.
“If anyone thought the trains would make this town a magnet for city shoppers, they were very much mistaken,” said Raymond Hamilton, who runs a soft furnishing outlet in Channel Street’s pedestrianised area.
He was responding to comments in last week’s Southern by Borders MP Calum Kerr who said traders in Galashiels had reported a big jump in trade and that the railway was “the biggest success in decades for the Borders”.
“That might be the case for some in the hospitality trade, but I believe even that is falling off along with the novelty value of the railway for visitors,” said Mr Hamilton.
“What hasn’t fallen off, however, is the number of locals who are using the train to do their shopping in Edinburgh, leaving shopkeepers here really suffering.
“There was an increase in footfall in the town centre in the first three weeks after the line opened [on September 6], but that has steadily decreased and now it’s worse than it was before the railway came.
“Most days you could fire a bullet down Channel Street and not hit anybody. That’s how bad things have got and I know many of my fellow traders around here feel the same. They have never known things to be this desperate and are genuinely worried about the future.
“The number of empty shops is already a great disincentive for visiting shoppers
and I fear this will get worse which means more folk will be boarding the train to Edinburgh. You can’t blame them.”
Local MSP Christine Grahame MSP is also keen to improve the shopping experience in Galashiels, but believes parking is a major problem.
This week she has written to Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker to ask that parking charges be removed from the town’s High Street car park for the whole of December.
Ms Grahame said she had been contacted by constituents concerned about drivers stopping for long periods on town centre streets to the detriment of local businesses.
“I can imagine an awful lot of people simply won’t pay to park in Galashiels and, indeed, may travel elsewhere to do their shopping,” she told us.
A report to last week’s meeting of SBC’s executive revealed that shop front improvement grants worth £42,000 had been approved so far this year to support 24 properties in Galashiels.
“Works to buildings are now beginning to make a difference to the town centre,” stated the report.