New Scottish Parliament inquiry into future of town centres seeks views of Fifers

Scotland’s politicians have launched a new inquiry into the future of our town centres - and they want your input.
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High Streets have been badly hit by the growth in retail parks and a massive rise in online shopping - and then came the pandemic.

But they remain vital to the heartbeat of their towns, and now our MSPs are preparing to take evidence to prepare a report on their future, and what support is needed to enable them to thrive once more.

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The Scottish Parliament’s economy and fair work committee plans visits to locations across Scotland, and it wants to hear from people with views on their town centres across Fife.

Kirkcaldy High Street (Pic: scott Louden)Kirkcaldy High Street (Pic: scott Louden)
Kirkcaldy High Street (Pic: scott Louden)

The inquiry is led by Claire Baker, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife - someone who is only too well aware of the real challenges facing places such as Kirkcaldy.

The Lang Toun has fallen further than most - simply because it was once the jewel in the crown of Fife’s retail scene.

But more than one generation has grown up since people did their weekly shop on the High Street, travelling from afar to do so.

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(Pic: Scott Louden)(Pic: Scott Louden)
(Pic: Scott Louden)
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Ove the years, it has suffered a host of big name departures and closures, and has had to battle to change the perception there is nothing there - despite it boasting more independent traders than ever before, and a thriving and growing cafe culture.

It remains very much a work in progress, while Burntisland has demonstrated the value of businesses working for the good of all with a High Street that has regained its mojo.

The committee wants to study everything from ownership of buildings - too many of which are left vacant for years - rates, the rise of e-commerce, and the new realities facing the retail sector.

Ms Baker said: “Scotland’s town centres have traditionally been the heartbeat of our communities bringing people together to live, work, shop and socialise.

Claire Baker Labour MSPClaire Baker Labour MSP
Claire Baker Labour MSP
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“However, traditional town centres are under pressure and under threat, with too many shops closing and too many High Streets dominated by ‘to let’ signs.

“We want to find out how to diversify and grow high street activity, and are particularly keen to hear from businesses and members of the public on what makes a successful and thriving town centre.”

The Fife politician is keen to take the committee on fact finding missions to several towns across Scotland as well as taking evidence from local people, businesses and organisations at the heart of our High Streets.

“There are many different models across Scotland, and we want to find out where they have had success.”

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Examples could include the Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries - a community benefit society breathing new life into the town centre by redeveloping empty High Street properties to create a new neighbourhood with a mix of uses built on principles of local prosperity and well being.

It will also tap into the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods - places that prioritise people rather than vehicles to help reduce our impact on the environment and get Scotland closer to net zero.

Bo’ness has been identified as one of the pilots after Forth Valley based charity Forth Environment Link received funding from the Scottish Government’s Investing in Communities fund to run a project in the town aimed at developing a community climate action.

Added Ms Baker: “We want to ask do people still value their High Streets? Are they important - and, if so, what is important about them?“We want people to have their say.

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“I can see how High Street businesses are also recognising they have to adapt and we are interested in hearing of the positive examples as well.”

The inquiry has launched an online portal to gather people’s views - it runs until March 16.

It will then start to call evidence before submitting its final report - complete with recommendations - with the hope that will then lead to a debate in the chamber at Holyrood.

Added Ms Baker: “Our inquiry is seeking to bring forward recommendations to demonstrate how Scotland’s town centres can thrive in this post pandemic world, and be vibrant, resilient and accessible places which meet the economic, social and environmental needs of our communities.”

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The call for views closes on March 16.

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