Post Tesco, how Kirkcaldy town centre is really faring ...

Kirkcaldy High Street's lantern parade (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)
Kirkcaldy High Street's lantern parade (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)

The town centre is more than just shops, cafes and places to eat and drink.

It is the heart of our town.

Fife Free Press front page listing the shops which have vanished from our town centre

Fife Free Press front page listing the shops which have vanished from our town centre

In the words of the late Dennis Alexander, who ran more than few businesses within it, it’s a place to place to eat, meet and greet.

But how is it doing in 2016, post BHS, Tesco and even Brexit?

The perception is there’s nothing left.

The reality is very, very different as a new independent audit underlines.

Kirkcaldy town centre certainly has its challenges, but it also has plenty to shout about.

It has more businesses than it did in 2013 and is growing quicker than towns such as Falkirk and Ayr, and on par with Inverness.

It remains the biggest town centre in the Kingdom, and it is well ahead of the Fife Retail Park in terms of turnover.

The report, prepared by four-consulting, an independent consultancy based in Kirkcaldy, doesn’t shy away from the big issues and hurdles it faces, but it gives the clearest picture yet of where the town centre it is … and where it can go.

It also sets out to give a report card on the BID company as it completes its sixth year in operation.

Set up to effectively oversee, promote and manage the town centre - a role traditionally the preserve of the local authority – Kirkcaldy4All has hit almost all of its targets..

Where there is work to be done, is down largely to matters outwith their control or influence – the loss of national stores and the impact they have on football.

Bill Harvey, manager of Kirkcaldy4All, welcomed its findings.

“This is an independent assessment – not an annual report written by us,’’ he said.

“It shows where we are, the reality of the issues facing the town centre and what we are trying to do about them’’

The report underlines the importance of the town centre to Kirkcaldy, and how its role has changed dramatically since the economic collapse of 2008.

Kirkcaldy town centre remains the least diversified in Fife, and it has lost nearly one in ten jobs over the past five years – and thats before you factor in the closure of Tesco.

The real damage has come through the smaller cutbacks, closures and moves out of town,

The number of solicitors and accountants in the town centre has fallen by two-thirds, banks and building societies have closed or merged, and local authority jobs have been lost as staff have been relocated from the Town House to Glenrothes.

That all adds up to some 300 town centre jobs lost from the professional services sector - that’s 300 fewer people who shop in it, and use its restaurants, cafes and bars on a regular basis.

And then there’s the ‘Tesco effect.’

Kirkcaldy was one of 43 town which lost its supermarket in a massive contraction by the troubled retailer, but it was the only one which stood up and fought the proposal.

Since then, BHS has also collapsed with the loss of more jobs, and the departure of customers from the town centre as shopping habits change once more.

But as the big names slide out of view - the days when Woolies, HMV, Mothercare, Littlewoods and the Co-op were part of our town centre have gone – a renaissance is taking place.

The names on our High Street and its surrounding streets are changing.

The number of businesses in Kirkcaldy town centre has grown more quickly compared with similar towns and city centres – it’s actually outstripping Falkirk, Kilmarnock, Ayr and even Perth.

And the diversity the town has lacked is changing,

Food outlets have increased by one third – that sector now accounts for nearly half of all new businesses in our town centre.

The number of micro businesses – those employing ten or fewer people - is up by 12.5 per cent. That equates to 40 new businesses.

In short, we have more businesses, but they are smaller than those of a generation ago, they are independently owned rather than part of a UK-wide chain, and many are based in the food and drink sector.

“The town centre is changing. It is beginning to evolve,’’ said Bill. “We have a sushi bar, cafes, an ice cream parlour - four or five years ago we had none of them.

“They have helped to lift the High Street - it’s now up to us to make coming to our town centre more of an experience.’’

And perhaps one number underlines the importance of the town centre to our town – its turnover.

Businesses in the BID area generated some £340m turnover in 2014.

The retail park? That came in at £120m.

It’s worth bearing that figure in mind when someone says the town centre has nothing to offer.