By Rory Murphy
What action is the Scottish Government taking to address the serious challenges that our local high streets face in the current climate and to support regeneration of town centres and cities as we move out of the pandemic?
This question was asked of Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, by her SNP colleague Willie Coffey, whose Kilmarnock constituency has been badly hit by the pandemic.
Ms Sturgeon, pictured right, told him: “That is a really important question, because there are significant challenges for town centres as a result of the pandemic. As we know, many of our town centres were facing challenges anyway, as shopping patterns were changing.
“We have published the independent review of the town centre action plan, and we will continue to increase the support that we give to town centres to respond to the challenges that they face.
“The review will be supported by an additional £25 million a year, as was announced in the budget, which is part of an overall five-year £275 million place-based investment programme that will build on previous investment to stimulate economic activity for regeneration in our towns and make sure that town centres, other, small settlements and business improvement districts get the support that they need to face up to those challenges.”
Tory Liam Liam Kerr pursued the First Minister on the question of store closures in big cities.
He said: “I would like to press the First Minister on a specific point. Last week, Aberdeen city centre was hit by the closure of Debenhams after more than 35 years in the city.
“Another department store building—that of BHS—remains empty five years after it closed, and Arcadia has shut several stores in the city.
“What is the First Minister doing to proactively help councils to find occupiers for empty buildings, to ensure that great cities such as Aberdeen do not come to resemble ghost towns?”
The FM replied: “I am going to resist the temptation to assume responsibility for filling individual shop units in every town and city.
“It is an important question and I do not mean to minimise it. We work with councils to support them through funding.
“Of course, this is not just about not wanting it to be my or the Scottish Government’s responsibility; local economic development teams in local councils are best placed to know how to recruit
“On the issue of town centres and working with local authorities through the action plan and the funding, the point that I was making was that it is right and proper—and probably most effective—for the local authority economic development teams to focus on who they are trying to recruit and who it is best to target for investment in their areas.”
Ms Sturgeon made no mention of what is to happen with Dumbarton and Alexandria town centres, both of which are in a desperate state.
Dumbarton High Street clogged with parked cars which now sit on both sides of the road. Top of page: Vale of Leven’s main shopping street at Mitchell Way, which is falling down.