There will be no traders left on the High Street if answers can’t be found to problems which are “killing local businesses”.
That was the stark warning from former councillor Andrew Farquhar, whose impassioned plea at Tuesday night’s Teviot and Liddesdale Area Forum meeting also saw him throw down the gauntlet to elected members who, he said, had to “come up with a solution”.
Alluding to long-standing issues over high rates and illegal parking, Mr Farquhar said: “We talked about this in 2014 when Hawick was becoming a ghost town, and absolutely nothing has been done, and the High Street isn’t getting any better.
“Traders are paying ridiculous rates for what they’re earning now, and they deserve a better service than that.
“The rates are going towards the council now, so it’s within our councillors’ remit to do something about it.
“Surely a solution can be found, especially to the parking, which is killing local businesses. You can come out with all the examples under the sun about people abusing the [parking] regulations, but it needs enforcement.
“That’s why we had traffic wardens, but we’re now going back to the dark ages because we have no enforcement.”
And calling on the town’s councillors to take action, he added: “You have got to come up with a solution, and not wait another two years to do it. Let’s get something done, otherwise there will be no traders left to pay rates on the High Street.”
Mr Farquhar’s comments followed a presentation by Jim McQuillin, Scottish Borders Council’s traffic management team leader, who revealed the results of a survey, carried out between January 29 and February 8, which asked local shopkeepers if they would like to see the direction of the traffic flow reversed on the High Street. Of the 162 questionnaires delivered, only 30 traders responded, with 21 of them indicating they would like the traffic flow changed to northbound, the main reason being they felt tourists from the south were bypassing the town centre.
Councillor Watson McAteer said: “The overriding issue here is that the bulk of traders are highlighting the fact that visitors to the town are missing the High Street –and this is a pretty crucial point.”
Libby Potts, of Libby’s Pet Shop, told the meeting: “Nearly everybody I speak to in the shop thinks that it would be a lot better for traffic to come from the south to the north. The reason being that when they’re coming from the south we’ve got a lot more folk coming through Hawick on the tourist route. But when they’re coming back from their holidays they’re going down the A1 or M74, and there isn’t the same amount of traffic.”
Mrs Potts also said that the parking problems on the High Street were “disgusting” and she echoed Mr Farquhar’s sentiments that the issue was “killing shops in Hawick”.
Responding to a comment by the community council’s Jim Little who wanted to see a warden appointed in the town in a bid to tackle illegal parking, Councillor Davie Paterson said it wasn’t just a case of employing someone for Hawick, it would have to be for the whole of the Borders – and the council was trying to get the money to make this happen.
Mr Little said he wasn’t worried about the Borders, but Mr Paterson said people around the region were also concerned about parking in their respective towns.
Councillor Stuart Marshall added: “The people in here tonight, they are the people who pay our wages, and they want to see something done in Hawick. We have to put the other towns aside, I’m afraid, because this is about Hawick.”
Speaking from the public gallery, Tom Hartop, who was chairman of the stakeholders’ group which oversaw the introduction of the one-way scheme in 2008, asserted: “The stakeholders were advised that going the way it is at the present moment was the way to do it because of the engineering works that might have to be done the other way, and that recommendation came from the roads department at St Boswells.”
Lawrence Marshall said some of the signs at the Tower Knowe were a “bit confusing” and he felt proper signage would help direct people to the free car park at Common Haugh and then onto the High Street.
Cameron Jeffrey thought a “great number of people” would like the traffic flow to return to two ways, and another member of the public said the High Street needed to go back to two-way, which was “the only answer and would bring in tourists”.
Evelyn Sangster, a former local trader, said the High Street was “solid with cars” on Tuesday morning and that traffic management was “definitely needed” from North Bridge Street along the High Street.
Concluding the debate, forum chairman George Turnbull said: “What we’re experiencing is driver abuse and lack of enforcement, which are not really faults of the one-way system ... and it’s only since the traffic wardens disappeared that things have escalated.”
Mr McQuillin expected members to come forward now or at a later stage to ask the council to do further work on the High Street issues.