A controversial suggestion that Hawick High Street should be made into a pedestrian-only zone is a “car crash of an idea”, a councillor for the town has warned.
Kelso councillor Tom Weatherston suggested pedestrianising what is said to be the longest high street in the Borders during a discussion of Scottish Borders Council’s Hawick action plan at last week’s meeting of the authority’s executive committee.
However, that proposal has been dismissed as impractical by Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson.
He said: “It’s a non-starter. Businesses on a lot of high streets in the UK are struggling at the moment because of a multitude of reasons, including internet shopping, out-of-town shopping and competition from supermarkets.
“I certainly don’t think that to pedestrianise our High Street is the answer.
“My argument is that it should be the businesses in the town and Hawick councillors that are elected to look after the town, not a councillor from Kelso, that decide what should be happening in our town.
“It’s one of the craziest ideas ever to come from the executive committee – a car crash of an idea.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer also believes removing all traffic from the street would be “short-sighted”.
He said: “Designating Hawick High Street a pedestrian-only zone would impact on many businesses and result in a significant number closing.
“While the Kelso councillor who suggested this did so in good faith, he failed to understand the wishes of the bulk of our High Street traders who would like to see more, rather than less, traffic.
“While the future of the High Street, like many others, is challenging, completely removing traffic at this time would be short-sighted and is practically unachievable.
“What would help would be the introduction of derestricted parking, and I hope this is recommended by the council working group tasked with examining this across the Borders”.
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall is more open to at least consulting on the pedestrian-only suggestion, though.
He said: “If any proposals were to come forward to pedestrianise our town’s High Street, then I would like to think that the businesses are the most important people whose views should be sought.
“These are folk who have livelihoods, which in turn createsour economy.
“Just because such an initiative works in other towns it shouldn’t be seen as a catalyst for Hawick.
“A lot of consultation would be required by many interested parties, and the business sector must be at the heart of such discussions.”
Fellow Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage believes the biggest issue facing the High Street is inconsiderate parking.
“Loading bays are not respected, and cars park for days,” she said.
“I have had businesses complain to me about losing passing trade because people cannot park and then just drive on.
“I am on the short-term parking issues committee and have been receiving many complaints about this.
“Maybe before we consider such a drastic measure as pedestrianising our High Street, we should consider other options around parking. After all, we do have the largest free car park in the Borders.”
Raising the pedestrian-only zone suggestion, Mr Weatherston told fellow councillors: “We’ve heard how shops have suffered because folk can’t park at the shops.
“I was on my travels again a few weeks ago, at various places, and the busiest places I visited were those with no cars on the streets, and no streets, just pedestrian areas and shops.
“We need to get more cars off the High Street and open up the High Street for pedestrians.
“If that was a huge pedestrian area, I’m sure it would bring folk into the High Street to shop in the shops and only allow vehicles for public transport like taxis.
“It certainly works elsewhere. The walking part of the street, to me, attracts folk in, because they don’t have the risk of getting run over.”
The council’s executive member for business and economic development, Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, agreed that Mr Weatherston’s suggestion might merit investigation, telling the meeting, held at Hawick Town Hall: “That’s very probably something that the Hawick working group might want to look at.”
However, Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull said the suggestion has been investigated over the years on several occasions and how to go about servicing shops and businesses in High Street had proved an insurmountable obstacle.
He added: “Unfortunately, there is not a service road to the rear of many of the properties and deliveries can only be made from the High Street.
“There could be restricted delivery times, but then we come back to enforcement issues yet again as we no longer have our traffic wardens.
“The High Street would benefit if the surface was at one level and with clearly marked parking spaces and some additional street furniture, along with some low-level shrubbery to enhance the look of our main shopping area.
“Anything that increases footfall on the High Street has to be given serious consideration to improve the experience of the shopper and encourage increased spending in our town centre shops and businesses.
“The increase in internet sales is a worry to many High Street operators as more and more shop from the comfort of their home but this reduces the level of footfall.
“Proposals are afoot to ease change of use of High Street premises and the usage of many of the premises will need to change to take account of the changing trends of shopping behaviour.
“We need to encourage more development of the properties above street level and create good-quality housing and get more people living in the town centre, which, in itself, will increase footfall and in turn the spending level to the local businesses.”
A spokesperson for the council confirmed that no viability surveys into pedestrianising Hawick town centre had been carried out in recent years.