Council chiefs have agreed to put Hawick in the running for a £2m regeneration project.
Scottish Borders Council’s executive committee has agreed to bid for funding from Historic Environment Scotland’s conservation area regeneration scheme (CARS) fund.
It hopes to secure a grant of £1.41m to spend on restoring shop fronts and historic buildings in the town centre.
The council had intended to put just £157,700 into that spending pot, if successful, alongside private-sector contributions of £358,750 to provide a budget of £1.93m, but it now believes it would have to splash the cash more lavishly. A report to the council by the authority’s chief economic development officer, Bryan McGrath, highlighted the success of a similar scheme in Selkirk since 2013, attracting £2.4m in public-sector funding.
Over that period, the number of at-risk buildings in Selkirk’s town centre has fallen from seven to two, average footfall has risen from a low of 2,090 to 2,710 and the percentage of vacant shops has dropped to below the average for the Borders.
Hawick, on the other hand, has seen a marked deterioration in its town centre.
Average weekly footfall has declined, year on year, from 9,990 in 2008 to 4,680 now, and the latest retail audit in December 2017 counted 37 vacant units in the town centre.
Some 26 of those units have been vacant for over a year, and there are currently seven at-risk buildings within the historic centre of the town.
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the council’s portfolio holder for business and economic development, told Tuesday’s executive committee meeting: “Clearly a lot of work has gone into this and at an incredible pace. We only started talking about this at the very end of last year, and here we are at the beginning of November essentially with a bid ready to launch.
“The other thing that’s worth mentioning is that this is a competitive bid. We’re going in for a fought-after fund of £10m and, according to this, we’re asking for a significant chunk of that.
“We need to bear that in mind. Councillors willing to throw in for that bid need to sustain the pressure.”
Council leader Shona Haslam said: “This was a commitment made in the budget last year, so I’m really pleased to see this.
“It really demonstrates the commitment of the administration to Hawick, and to the regeneration of Hawick, which is fantastic to see.”
Properties in line to be renovated if the bid succeeds include the Crown Business Centre at 20-22 High Street, the former Queen’s Head pub at 32 High Street, the erstwhile Liberal club at 80 High Street, the old KT Krafts shop at 24 High Street and the vacant Beauty Lounge unit at 26 High Street, as well as 4 Round Close.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer is no longer on the executive but he sat in on the meeting, and he welcomed the news, saying: “It’s great news that the executive has supported the CARS scheme.
“We’ve seen it in Kelso and Jedburgh and Selkirk. It makes a real difference to a town.
“Hawick can look forward to seeing a few of these building which are a bit tatty and a bit worn being reshaped and bringing new life to the town.
“Everybody is going to be delighted to see that happen.”
Although the majority of funding for the CARS scheme comes from Historic Environment Scotland, property owners still have to contribute towards any revamp of their buildings’ fronts.
Asked about that, Mr McAteer added: “No doubt it will be a challenge for some, but I’m hoping that most will see the benefit of actually contributing to their own property.
“Consequently, they’re going to see an increase in the quality of their property and probably an increase in the resale value. It’s a win-win situation.”
The bid has been welcomed by other councillors for the town too.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull said: “The campaign to bring the Borders Railway to Hawick will be transformational for the town, but it is going to take years to deliver.
“We cannot wait around, which is why Scottish Borders Council is pressing ahead with plans to make Hawick a better place to live, work and visit.
“This new regeneration scheme has worked well in other parts of the Borders and would improve a number of our buildings.”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Neil Richards added: “This proposal is just one of a number the council are pressing ahead with.
“Alongside sorting out bad parking on the High Street, the new business hub and business-friendly planning laws, there is a sense that Hawick is turning a corner.”
After the meeting, Mr Rowley said: “CARS funding schemes are extremely competitive, with bids coming from across the country, so there is absolutely no guarantee that we will be successful.
“However, we have an excellent track record when we have sought such funding, delivering successful programmes in Kelso and Selkirk, and indications are that will also be the case with the current Jedburgh CARS programme.
“This all stands us in good stead with an application for Hawick.
“There are a number of prominent buildings in Hawick town centre that could benefit through a CARS project and such a scheme could help reverse some of the decline the town has experienced and, along with other ongoing projects such as the Almstrong’s redevelopment, provide a catalyst to wider regeneration and investment from the private sector.”