The announcement by Debenhams it is to close its Kirkcaldy store has sparked a call for “urgent steps” to be taken.
The Lang Toun, once the jewel in Fife’s retail crown, has been badly hit by the departure of major players such as M&S, BhS and Tesco in recent years – and the loss of Debenhams will leave it with another large empty unit in the heart of its pedestrianised zone.
Now the Federation of Small Business has called for Kirkcaldy to make full use of its share from the Scottish Government’s £4.3m funding pot for town centres allocated to the region.
The allocation was announced last month, and it will be divvied up once councillors and officers study the criteria laid down by the Scottish Government
Garry Clark, development manager for the FSB in Fife, said: “Fife got the highest allocation from the Scottish Government’s new Town Centres Fund.
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“This investment must be focused where it can make a significant difference to a defined area, encouraging non-retailers and employers into town centres.
“It should not be rushed, though, and Fife Council should take its time to ensure that it gets this opportunity for meaningful intervention right.”
Mr Clark described Debenham’s decision to shut its doors in Kirkcaldy – the only store in Scotland to be included on its hit list of 22 closures – as “bad news for the High Street.” He added: “The challenge facing Kirkcaldy High Street is growing and it is imperative that urgent steps are taken to enable diversification.
“Our High Streets can no longer rely only on retail and we must embrace opportunities for people to live, work and socialise there.”
Lesley Laird, MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath said the closure announcement was ”hugely disappointing but not altogether unexpected.”
“After the loss of Marks and Spencer it was anticipated Kirkcaldy High Street’s problems would get worse before they got better and the closure of Debenhams was really a question of when, not if,” she said.
“My thoughts are with the staff at this time and I’ll be contacting Debenhams to see what measures are being put in place to help them find alternative employment.”
She said the issues facing the town centre were more acute as a result of a string of closures, and the road ahead had to be more diversity.
“Kirkcaldy High Street requires radical transformation in order to bring back much-needed footfall and a variety of options must be considered, not just retail,” she added. “Fife has secured £4.3m from the Scottish Government’s £50m town centre fund and some of that money will, of course, go to Kirkcaldy but it won’t be enough to secure transformative change.
“The UK Government allocated £1.6bn for the regeneration of English towns as part of the Stronger Towns Fund. There was no announcement of similar funding for Scotland. It must come clean on this and, in the interests of openness and transparency, answer the very legitimate questions that I have raised in my letter.”
Ms Laird also called for “a co-ordinated approach” but one that “must show some urgency.”