Regularly I receive emails about the regeneration of small town centres. Earlier this year the Scottish Government set up the Town Centre Regeneration Fund, providing £60m of financial assistance, to support towns which apply for assistance.
Last week Newsnight Scotland reported on the under occupancy of shops and residential properties in Scotland's town centres and they reported Alloa (picture above) is getting it right with a lower rate of under occupancy than other similar towns in Scotland. Keith Brown, the MSP for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane was delighted. "This is a fantastic good news story about Alloa. Congratulations must be given to the Business Improvement district and Clackmannanshire Council for theIr Image Alloa project - which was funded by the Scottish Government - but also to local businesses and residents who have all worked hard to make a difference to Alloa.
Sounds all rather super duper doesn't it? Well, one reader is well acquainted with Alloa and sent the following email:
Now this frightens me. To say that Alloa town centre is the one that others need to follow, does not say a lot for the chances of Scotland in the future, or the reporting abilities of Newsnight Scotland. There are five charity shops, four betting shops, four takeaways, Iceland, Farmfoods, Poundland, couple of restaurants, two banks, two shops selling mobile phone accessories and the occasional phone and two newsagents. There are a couple of pubs and the night club should be advertised as a promoter of fights.
In addition to the above there is a pet shop, two travel shops, (were three but one closed), two hairdressers (the third closed), a gift shop and that's about it. Oh yes, in addition there is one hi -fi shop and one hardware store. I have lost count of the real businesses that have closed down, but most of the above are in places that recently closed. There used to be a big Co-op department store but that closed about five years ago.
The place is more like a down at heel Arabian bazaar than an on-the-way-up modern town. There have been a few one man shops that tried to make a go of it but they lasted about six months.
There are times you could fire a cannon down the high street and all you would do is frighten the two resident pigeons.
There may only be a few vacant premises but what the shops that are trading is telling us is not good. Second hand shops, betting shops and takeaways, do not indicate a vibrant economy - not to me anyway.
Tesco, Aldi ,Lidl, Asda, Morissons, are all outside the town centre; the public toilets were all closed by the previous labour council and the supermarkets asked to make their toilets available to the passing public. Only one toilet has been reopened by the current SNP council.
The most people I have seen in the town was last weekend, and that was when Alloa played Rangers and even then there were only a couple of dozen or so. Most new build is out of town, the latest is Kentucky Fried, and their new place is on the outskirts at the football ground. Plenty of room for parking you see.
I wonder what baseline reference Newsnight Scotland is using?
I could name two towns in Perthshire which sound rather like Alloa. Until local planners stop permitting new businesses to set up on the outskirts of towns and refuse to acknowledge that High Street rents are too excessive for small businesses, then towns will slowly fall into further decline. More and more people are buying online and the reason for part of that habit is convenience and choice.
What's surprising is that I don't know anyone who has been asked about the future of their town centre. Do the people want old town centres preserved? Has anyone asked? Maybe they prefer the new shopping centres with plenty of easy free parking and modern shops?