Kirkcaldy: A town centre in search of rays of sunshine

This picture is from 2012 - the shop still sits empty (Pic: Neil Doig/Fife Free Press)
This picture is from 2012 - the shop still sits empty (Pic: Neil Doig/Fife Free Press)

Friday morning, and the bus station feels deserted. Where is the rush hour commute?

Saturday morning and the town centre hasn’t even woken up. The High Street is worryingly quiet.

Sunday afternoon, two sales assistants stare out of the window. They have no customers to serve.

It’s all too easy to write stories about Kirkcaldy’s High Street describing it as “ailing” and dying” – but changing that perception is getting harder and harder.

I fear we are sleep walking towards the precipice.

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M&S shuts down in 12 days time. Its closure will scythe the number of folk who regularly come to the High Street.

It may only be one store closure – goodness knows we’ve endured enough of them in recent years – but it is more profound than that.

M&S stands for continuity and tradition. Its decision to quit the High Street may be part of a UK-wide strategy, but it sticks in the throat.

Calls for it to consider all options – an outlet store or a much-needed High Street foodhall – met the same brick wall we ecountered when Tesco bailed.

Its Hunter Street store is now an eyesore; a dumping ground for a charity. It looks horrendous, but big business and landlords just don’t care any more. They close the doors, strip out the fittings and leave the town to go figure.

The start of 2019 has been ghastly with a slew of retail closures, but it has also seen more effort by more people than ever to change the mood music.

Saturday was “Sunny Saturday” – an initiative involving a host of businesses to bring some ray of hope back to the High Street.

Sure, it was modest in scale, and I suspect many fewer folk will have heard about it than read about the £1 throwaway pricetag slapped on The Postings by its owners to get it off their books.

We need to shout much louder about what Kirkcaldy town centre is doing, and has got, rather than what it has lost, but it’s hard to make yourself heard when you are still in freefall without a parachute.

A comment from a colleague speaking to someone immersed in town centre development and investment chimed this week.

Looking at Kirkcaldy, he said the town’s strong retail history meant it had much further to fall than anywhere else in Fife, before it could then start to rebuild.

I fear 2019 will see the descent accelerate, and, when it comes to national chain stores making the call, there is little we can do to prevent it either.

This week, our politicians embarked on a ‘placemaking’ project which contains lots of great ideas, but, I worry it will fly over the heads of most folk, bamboozled by the jargon, and weary of yet another initiative.

It has a two-year timescale. We haven’t got that long. Kirkcaldy town centre needs immediate action. It needs clear goals that can be achieved within three months, then six, then nine.

And this isn’t just about our High Street. It is about the future of our town, what it stands for, and where it is going.