Traders hit by slump in shoppers
ALARM bells rather than tills are ringing across Borders high streets this week.
Official figures released to the Border Telegraph show that shopper numbers around our town centres have fallen by up to a third in the past four years.
And the most up-to-date statistics reveal the problem is accelerating.
The Town Centre Footfall Survey, conducted by Scottish Borders Council, paints a worrying picture as numbers on every town centre pavement have plummeted.
Selkirk's shopper numbers have crashed from a weekly average of 3690 in 2007 to just 2580 during last autumn's count - a drop of more than 30 per cent.
Although Galashiels (-14.5 per cent) and Melrose (-17.23 per cent) have fared slightly better, the trend will still be a major headache for retailers.
Councillor Vicky Davidson believes planned improvements will help reverse the trend in her native Selkirk. She told the Border Telegraph: "We are in the process of putting together a substantial application to improve the town centre. A lot of people are working very hard.
"I am a little surprised by these figures as Selkirk does seem busy but I am sure once all of the planned improvements are carried out Selkirk will become a much more attractive option for shoppers.
"We already have some excellent shops but we need to attract even more."
A meeting took place in the town last week to finalise a bid for major heritage funding to improve the town centre Courthouse. And members of the Selkirk Chamber of Trade took to the streets on Saturday in a bid to promote local shopping.
The footfall figures are collated each year by a team of counters positioned at various points around each town. And an average weekly footfall is calculated once all the figures are combined.
The eight towns - Duns, Galashiels, Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, Peebles and Selkirk - which are included in the survey provided an average weekly footfall of 46,380 in 2007. The same results from last September/October showed the number had fallen to 38,400.
Analysis of the results show that both Hawick and Kelso centres dropped quicker when large supermarkets opened nearby. But similar-sized superstores opening in Galashiels two years earlier didn't have the same immediate impact.
The study also reveals that during the recession of 2008 and 2009 the Borders decline was on par with the rest of the UK. But many towns, including Galashiels, have continued to lose shoppers year on year ever since.
David Houston, chairman of the town's Chamber of Trade, hopes the completion of the new Inner Relief Road will reverse the trend. He told us: "There has been an element of people being scared away by all of the roadworks, but hopefully that's behind us.
"A lot of work is going on to make Galashiels a better place to come shopping."
As well as opening up the top end of Channel Street to allow for entertainment and occasional markets, Scottish Borders Council are also promoting a shopfront scheme, which allows traders to claim for up to 80 per cent of the cost of improving their premises and signage.
Galashiels and District councillor Bill White believes the impetus for recovery should lie with both the traders as well his local authority. Councillor White said: "We have some quality retailers in the centre of Galashiels but I feel we could do with some more. I also feel the shopkeepers should make themselves as interesting as they can be to attract shoppers.
"The Council is doing its bit with improvements to the Market Square and work about to start at either end of Channel Street, but we are all in this together.
"I am not totally disheartened by these figures but they do show that we have a lot of work ahead of us."
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