Footfall in Hawick town centre fell by 42% over three years, worrying new statistics reveal.
According to Scottish Borders Council’s town centre resilience index, an average of 7,480 people a week visited High Street and the rest of the town centre back in 2012.
But that figure had fallen to 4,360 by 2015, a reduction of 3,120 over the period–- the biggest percentage fall among all towns in the Borders.
Hawick also has among the highest levels of vacant shop units, with 14% of the town’s 258 retail outlets empty.
Only Galashiels and Jedburgh have higher vacancy rates, both at 15%.
Further unwanted statistics include the highest proportion of its population being rated among the most deprived in Scotland at 28%, the highest level of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance and 39% of residents over the age of 16 having no qualifications at all.
It would appear that Hawick is still a town where people want to live despite its problems, however.
The data reveals that its population actually rose in the period from 2008 to 2014, going up from 13,787 to 14,003.
Hawick and Denholm councillor Watson McAteer believes the report “demonstrates a fundamental lack of economic and social investment in Hawick by Scottish Borders Council”.
The figures formed part of a report to the council’s executive committee this week, outlining the positive impact the Borders Railway was having on tourism in the rest of the region.
Mr McAteer said: “The town centre index report confirms what we all know in that Hawick sits firmly at the bottom of the league, sharing worst spot with our near neighbours Jedburgh.
“This report clearly demonstrates a fundamental lack of economic and social investment in Hawick by Scottish Borders Council.
“Hawick has many real positive changes taking place.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson disputted Mr McAteer’s assessment of the report as bad news, however, saying: “I can hardly believe that anyone is even attempting to rubbish what is quite simply great news for the Scottish Borders with the Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor, which has figures from both the Borders and Midlothian saying that statistics show a significant improvement in key tourism performance figures in the first half of 2016 compared to the first half of 2015.
“It is also the first time in 10 years that every category measured has improved. This is obviously due to the opening of the railway.
“It’s a shame that some councillors choose to be selective in what they pick from any data.
Fellow Hawick and Hermitage councillor Ron Smith also urged caution over the selective use of statistics, and he did see some reason for optimism within the data, in particular a reduction in the retail vacancy rate from 16% in 2012 to 14% last summer.
He said: “It’s always possible to be selective with statistics.
“I also notice positives such as the decline in retail vacancy rates and in the growth in population which the accompanying text states indicates this is a place where people want to live.
“There is a structural problem for Hawick which needs addressed – 39% of our population has no school qualifications and 41% are in semi-skilled and unskilled manual occupations.
“These are the highest figures for the 10 Borders towns.
“This affects spending potential. Perhaps it also is a factor in Hawick lying within the 20% of the most deprived communities in Scotland.
“This is a historic problem. The remedy has to be in continuing commitment to and investment in education.
“The overall figures, in identifying Hawick as the most needy of these 10 towns, highlight that this town must be a council and Scottish Government priority for investment.
“There is plenty of evidence that that has been happening.”