Kirkcaldy town centre emerges from lockdown with positive signs of progress
Lockdown may have shrunk our world, but it also allowed to us re-connect with our town.
As restrictions ease, the early evidence suggests Kirkcaldy town centre has emerged in better shape than many anticipated.
Footfall is up, new businesses have moved in, a cafe culture established - and the waterfront has emerged as one of the most popular destinations to meet up.
For Councillor Alistair Cameron, it is a hugely positive return after lockdown put everything on hold across 2020.
And he is confident the plans in hand will help aide its recovery.
“It has emerged better than I’d hoped,” he said. “High Street footfall is busier than the month leading up to COVID in February 2020.
“There are more people in the area.
“There’s a move to shopping locally - people are understanding that if they want to keep something then they have to use it.”
The slow, steady return to normality has led to a re-opening of business, and brought life back to the town centre.
“More and more people are gauging that things are changing and stabilising,” he said. “They are vaccinated and following guidelines - normality feels like it is coming back.
“Retail is still quite mixed. One business I spoke to was doing around 20% of what they were before Covid - but others doing two or three times as much.”Mr Cameron highlighted the growth of the town’s cafes, the launch of the ShopAppy initiative, the success of its two markets and the arrival of new owners for the Mercat Shopping Centre as pillars of the success story.
“I have had more contact with the new centre owners in four meetings than I ever had with the previous owner,” he said. “It is encouraging that they are keen to bring new people into the town centre and not just attract those already shopping there.
“It is also very encouraging they have acquired the old BhS store - someone now has ownership of the space and wants to do something with it.”
He is confident that the town centre will continue its progress with a new approach to the thorny issue of car parking.
“There are ideas and I think they will be really positive for the town centre, and a big step forward
“We need to ensure we have the balance right between visitors, workers, residents and Blue Badge holders - our proposal will be positive and be the way forward.
“Parking regulations in the pedestrianised zone have played their part. Now there are fewer cars, and people are indicating to drivers who still use it that they shouldn’t be there, and challenging them.
“Things are changing, but we have to hammer home that after 11:00 on certain days you don’t drive along the High Street. It is for pedestrians only, and that includes staff and people coming to the vaccination centre - we have created free parking for them at The Postings.”
The other major project ready to roll is phase two of the waterfront project to cut the dual carriageway to a single road.
A further £1m of funding will see the project extend to Nicol Street, and more of the central divide removed and the landscape transformed.
“It’s a natural walk and one so many people do on a regular basis.
“The next challenge is to link it from Seafield Tower to Ravenscraig, and showcase the landscape and history we have. We need to look at that bigger picture.
“But, people who use the waterfront regularly are very enthusiastic about the changes. Those who don’t visit as often perhaps less so, but once the middle was taken away they could all see how much nicer it looked.”
“And that ties in with Kirkcaldy becoming such an attraction for people who work in places such as Edinburgh and are looking for a place that offers best value for their money.
“Now, Kirkcaldy comes out miles ahead of everywhere else - and we can see that with the way the housing market is going.”
Many may end up living in the town centre as more developments start to emerge.
Forth House and the building above Olympia Arcade have been transformed - and more will follow as building work starts at the gap site left by the former Co-Op.
Added Mr Cameron: “There are also a number of small developers who have bought spaces above shops which haven’t be used for years and turning them into flats
“A number have been bought, and there are more opportunities to tap into.”