Six run-down properties in Hawick town centre look to be first in line for facelifts now a £1.5m regeneration scheme is up and running there.
The Hawick scheme, like previous such initiatives in Selkirk and Jedburgh, will focus on renovating historic buildings in need of repairs.
The scheme is funded by Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Borders Council and the South of Scotland Economic Partnership (SoSEP), and they have contributed £1.3m, £200,000 and £60,000 respectively to its kitty.
Selkirk’s scheme saw £2.4m of public-sector funding invested between 2013 and 2018, leading to the number of at-risk buildings in its town centre falling from seven to two.
Over that period, average footfall rose from a low of 2,090 to 2,710, and the percentage of vacant shops fell to below the regional average.
Hawick, on the other hand, has seen a marked deterioration in its town centre.
Average weekly footfall has declined from 9,990 in 2008 to 4,680 now, and a retail audit in December 2017 revealed there to be 37 vacant units in its town centre.
Hawick’s regeneration scheme was formally launched today October 10.
The buildings being prioritised for revamps are the former Glenmac mill in Teviot Crescent, 4 Round Close and four in High Street – the old KT Krafts shop at No 24, the unit home to the Beauty Lounge at No 26, the former Queen’s Head pub at No 32 and the erstwhile Liberal club at No 80.
Almost £630,000 of the scheme’s budget is earmarked to be spent on doing up those six historic buildings.
Speaking at today’s launch event, held at the Heart of Hawick, the council’s executive member for economic development, Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, said: “I’m very, very happy with this. It’s only the latest amount of money coming into Hawick, but it’s a really substantial sum and it’s very targeted on the conservation area and the historic heart of Hawick, so I think will make a real difference.
“Hawick is the biggest town by population in the Scottish Borders. It is very important to the council.
“My economic team run an annual town centre index that looks at footfall, shop vacancies and all those sorts of issues, and Hawick comes top of that, and that’s why we’ve prioritised it.
“That’s one of the reasons why it has two targeted economic sub-committees just looking at Hawick, and it’s one of the reasons why SoSEP is spending a lot of time in Hawick looking at projects such as the centre for excellence in textiles.
“I’ve seen old photos of the Queen’s Head. It used to have a restaurant in it. It’s right next to the town hall, which is fantastic, and that may be one of the first projects to come forward and have boots on the ground and hard hats inside.
“The old Liberal club is magnificent, and even some of the humbler ones are fantastic, but those are only the lead projects. Those are the priority ones we’ve identified.
“What the process does now is invite any and all property owners in the centre of Hawick to come forward and talk to us about what we can do in partnership to improve their bit of public realm and their buildings.”
Grant funding totalling £450,000 will be available over the next five years for other town centre property owners to undertake renovation work.
Thomas Knowles, outgoing head of grants at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “The scheme comes back to this idea of heritage-led regeneration, which means utilising the historic environment to bring real regeneration back into our town centres.
“For us, regeneration means bringing vacant buildings and vacant floor space back into meaningful use, setting up businesses and creating jobs.
“It also means bringing back into use places for people to stay, for accommodation.
“That comes back to the idea that our town centres need people in them, throughout the day, evening and night, in order to work properly.
“We need restaurants, we need bars, we need shops, we need accommodation, and that’s what the funding is here to do. It’s here to take out buildings that might not be in the best condition and give them the opportunity to get funding to bring them back into meaningful use.
“It’s really important to try and keep the money in the local economy and employ local contractors so that the public funding that is paying the contractors stays in the local economy and it gets spent on local goods and services, which means the money goes round.
“We also offer the opportunity for local tradespeople to get upskilled in traditional skills, and a lot of that is free at the point of access, to enable them to have the required skill sets to work on these types of buildings.”
Here are the six buildings being prioritised for repairs ...
Councillors welcome initiative ...