The Scottish Government is poised to plough £50 million into the nation’s high streets – sparking hopes for a renaissance in towns and cites across the north and north-east.
Previously bustling centres have experienced dramatic drops in footfall in recent years, with shoppers instead flocking to out-of-town retail parks or making purchases online.
A slew of once-popular businesses on Union Street in Aberdeen – like the expansive BHS department store, Bruce Miller’s music shop and Waterstones bookshop – have either closed down or relocated, sparking fears the thoroughfare is “on its knees”.
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But the government’s £50 million pledge for high streets, included in its draft budget and to be spent by Scotland’s 32 local authorities, has raised hopes of a reversal in fortunes.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which has campaigned for the massive cash injection, believes that the funding could help secure the future of troubled high streets if given appropriate support from local authorities and traders.
FSB’s policy chairman, Andrew McRae, said: “The future of many Scottish high streets depends upon finding new uses for long-empty retail properties.
“The challenge is to make our town centres attractive places for working, living and socialising.
“That might mean turning an empty bank into a restaurant, a former supermarket into office space, or a long vacant shop unit into a flat.
“While the money allocated is not sufficient to transform every high street in the country, it should kick-off a national debate about the future of these important local places.”
However, the move comes at a time when Aberdeenshire Council has caused controversy by progressing plans to end the free 30-minute parking period available at pay and display sites across the region.
John Pascoe, the chairman of town centre improvement group Rediscover Peterhead, said that the authority was “creating a barrier” at the same time as national efforts are being made to prop up struggling high streets.
We Are Inverurie, a group set up to promote the Aberdeenshire town, is also contesting the proposals.
Chairman, Derek Ritchie, last night said he hoped that the government money would go towards small towns which have been badly hit by the oil and gas downturn.
Highland Council has faced a huge backlash over a parking crackdown which resulted in £600,000 of fines being issued between October 2o16 and October 2018.
IN recent years, Moray Council has run “free after 3pm” parking offers to entice shoppers into the heart of Elgin during the festive period.