Ten years on – two masterplans for Kirkcaldy town centre

Architect image of inside the proposed expanded Mercat Shopping Centre
Architect image of inside the proposed expanded Mercat Shopping Centre

Ten years ago, the battle for Kirkcaldy town centre saw two heavyweights with ambitious plans go head to head.

In the red corner – McDonald Estates and a bid to turn the dilapidated site of the former B&Q into a supermarket

In the blue corner, the owners of the Mercat Shopping Centre with plans for a massive expansion which included a hotel, cinema and leisure facilities.

Both promised hundreds of jobs, but there was always only going to be room for one.

And councillors’ decision to back the Invertiel development– which went against the Local Plan – was a key moment in the development of our town centre.

The debate was long, sometimes heated, and it packed the letters pages and columns of the Press from January 2010 until a final decision was reached the following July.

Today, the Mercat remains pretty much as it did in 2010, but with the demolition of the site of the former swimming pool which it bought from fife Council for £1.

Morrisons is now firmly established at Invertiel - an area which will see Lidl join them in the next 12 months, and a planning application tabled to create residential zone where the old Stagecoach garages once stood.

And so much has changed in the decade as online shopping has decimated town centres everywhere, and major chain stores have disappeared or radically re-thought their business models in order to survive.

It started in January 2010 when McDonald Estates lodged a planning application to knock down the old red shed that was once home to B&Q, and build a modern supermarket.

The site was an eyesore – the worst possible first impression for visitors coming into the town along the coast road.

It sparked an immediate objection from City Site Estates, the company which owned the Mercat Shopping centre back then. It argued such a move would only hurt the High street and fragment retail even further.

Morrisons promised some 380 jobs, and, two weeks later, CSE unveiled its own ambitious plans for the Mercat – and raised the stakes with the promise of 850 jobs and a further 450 during the construction process.

As blueprints go , it was huge in scale.

It would have made the Mercat 50 per cent bigger than the Gyle Shopping Centre in Edinburgh.

It proposed a glass front along the Esplanade which led to a hotel, expanded shopping centre with food court, cinema and leisure facilities.

There was to be a new civic plaza, a new multi-storey car park in Charlotte Street, while the one in Thistle Street was to be demolished

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But the whole plan hinged on an anchor tenant – a supermarket of some 100,000 square feet.

That was twice the size of the existing Tesco store in Hunter Street, and bigger than the store’s outlet at Duloch in Dunfermline.

CSE produced a fly-through video which was hugely impressive, and clearly resonated with some within the council.

“It ticks every box” said one senior officer, but not everyone was convinced.

“Not a brick will be laid” was the verdict on one highly experienced political observer. They were right.

But to put the plans into context, 2010 was a year of big thinking.

Brian Soutar was piloting his hovercraft link from Kirkcaldy to Edinburgh, a new swimming pool was in the pipeline, and the centre of the High Street was set for a new look... and the Esplanade was to be converted from dual carriageway to a single road!

TKMaxx had just signed a new ten-year lease with the Mercat, and the centre was trumpeting expressions of interest from a raft of big hitters - Apollo Cinemas wanted to come in, and so did H&M , Primark, TJ Hughes, Frankie & Bennys, and Pizza Express.

The debate rumbled on throughout the year with both sides pitching their case.

Kirkcaldy had seen and heard it all before.

The 2005 masterplan which envisaged a waterfront with folk roller-blading in golden sunshine, and the one where the Mercat wanted to built out into the Forth - shops on stilts!

By July 2010, Morrisons confirmed it was coming to Kirkcaldy, and it only had eyes on Invertiel.

The planning process rumbled on until March 2011 when the area committee had to decide on the two applications.

In a highly charged meeting, it backed Invertiel.

There was spontaneous applause from a packed public gallery as Councillor George Kay spoke passionately about redeveloping the area.

That wasn’t the final word, however.

The plan sat outwith the council’s own framework so it went to the planning committee several months later.

Its decision to rubber-stamp Morrisons’ supermarket brought a sharp response from CSE – it immediately announced plans for a cinema, bowling alley and hotel were in the bin. A stinging slap for the town.

The Mercat’s expansion plans never came to fruition and owners CSE called in the receivers in 2012

Not a brick was laid after all ...