Kirkcaldy: a town without a bustling town centre is as hollow as a Polo mint

The irony wouldn’t have been lost on anyone watching the struggles our town centre is going through. In the week that politicians posed for photos holding up jumbo-sized logos proclaiming ‘Scotland Loves Local’ one long-established retailer was quietly announcing its closure date.
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The Present Shop continues to trade but will be gone early in 2024. It’s hard to see anyone taking its unit at the very back of the Mercat - a shopping centre that feels increasingly surplus to requirement, and more soul-less and lifeless with every visit.

I guess that begs one simple question: what do we want from our town centre? We rail at its shortcomings, but won’t support it, and still expect it to somehow survive. Scotland may love local - a great slogan, for sure - but words are just about all we seem to have.

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There is much more to Kirkcaldy than the High Street, and cannot be the sole indicator of the economic wellbeing of the town, but it is symbolic of the health of the Lang Toun, and it is important. A town without a town centre is a hollow as a Polo mint.

Shoppers in Kirkcaldy High Street circa 2010m (Pic: Neil Doig/Fife Free Press)Shoppers in Kirkcaldy High Street circa 2010m (Pic: Neil Doig/Fife Free Press)
Shoppers in Kirkcaldy High Street circa 2010m (Pic: Neil Doig/Fife Free Press)

The pain being suffered here is mirrored across the country. Pick any town, and some cities, and you’ll find the same drab ‘to let’ signs hanging above long abandoned shops. What fitted the demands of retail a generation ago are now well beyond their use-by date.

In Dunbar at the weekend, the High Street was a pleasant place to visit, but you could probably fit it into our pedestrianised zone. Ditto Peebles, and Burntisland - the more compact the High Street, the more it can create a hubbub. Kirkcaldy’s mile-long High Street has three distinct segments. Put them together in the middle, and you’d have a braw, busy town centre, but radical surgery isn’t going to happen so we need some out of the box thinking.

I was intrigued to read at the weekend of Glasgow’s plans to revitalise the so-called "Golden Z" area of the city - the streets around Sauchiehall Street left behind as retail has contracted. The city is miles behind that of ,say, Newcastle and Manchester, so the council is looking at radical surgery which ought to chime with officers and councillors here.

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It wants to tackle abandoned building and eyesores with a package of “intervention and investment” involving the public and private sectors

For retail it wants quality rather than quantity, a greater mix of restaurant, café, bar and leisure uses, and it wants to bring people back into the town to live, and not just students whether - Edinburgh take note - but all generations. Workspaces, and more cultural attractions will also help the streetscape to change across the day and into the night - and every town needs that constantly adapting picture to allow all sectors to operate.

Glasgow’s plan excited me. It also got me thinking - where’s Kirkcaldy’s equivalent? We need to grasp the bigger picture with the same vibrancy and determination. Do that, and the groups and individuals trying their best to make a difference - and there are more people working harder than ever behind the scenes in Kirkcaldy - will finally get the support and resource they need and deserve.

It’s a big ask, but once we all need to play our part in making happen.