Town centres: why is Dunfermline High Street bustling but Kirkcaldy struggling?

Two High Streets, two pedestrianised zones 12 miles apart, but with a very different feel to them.
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I’m reluctant to run down Kirkcaldy’s town centre - there’s a small army of critics out there administering a relentless kicking on social media - but a visit on Saturday to it and then Dunfermline’s town centre was a bit of an eye opener. One felt busy and lively, the other didn’t.

Two towns - I know Dunfermline’s a city, but the Auld Grey Toun still feels very much like a town regardless of what the welcome signs say - facing the same challenges, but seemingly going in different directions.

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Kirkcaldy’s difficulties have been well chronicled, and there are times the High Street feels almost done in by the constant negativity which is a crying shame. There are more people than ever doing everything they can to turn things round.

They way we were: The High Streets of yesteryear in Kirkcaldy and DunfermlineThey way we were: The High Streets of yesteryear in Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline
They way we were: The High Streets of yesteryear in Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline

You’ll find empty units in Dunfermline’s pedestrianised zone too, but they don’t feel as quite in your face as our boarded up WHSmiths does just along from the tatty looking outlet that was once Debenhams and New Look, across from the appalling mess we called BhS. Collectively, those abandoned buildings are masking so much of the hard work going into protecting what we have, and laying the foundations for the future. It is scunnering.

The businesses working their tails off to create jobs and offer services deserve much, much better as neighbours. Maybe it’s time the owners of these eyesores were given a hefty kick to at least tidy the buildings up. At this rate BhS is rapidly becoming the new Mountainlines- a stagnant boarded up mess that just becomes a part of the landscape year after year after year.

But, Kirkcaldy’s biggest problem is the High Street is too long. Tie a rope round it, squeeze it into a third of the size and you’d have a bustling wee centre that is busier and more attractive.

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That is partly why Dunfermline seems to be doing okay. Small is better. It also has three nationals as anchors - M&S, Primary and Next - which gives it a head start. It’s pointless moaning - what has gone from Kirkcaldy ain’t coming back.

Dunfermline also has a better shopping centre. The Mercat is woeful, the Kingsgate isn’t, although, ironically, the reasons for my visit - Record Store Day - yielded zilch in the way of purchases from a pretty disappointing HMV which feels like a t-shirt store with some music chucked upstairs.

But, again, size matters. The Kingsgate is more compact so it feels busier, and its empty units merge into the background, whereas in the Mercat they scream at you. That middle section of Miss Maudes, Bright House, Clinton Cards, and Superdrug is just a wasteland. Imagine if we transplanted every Mercat trader into the pedestrianised zone? Overnight it was bustle with activity. Wishful thinking, I know …

Our High Street of the future has to work with what it has. West is far from best, but maybe we need to take a wee look along the A92 and see what we can learn from them, adapt and implement in our own pedestrianised zone.

Oh, and did I mention the lack of cars …?

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