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Patience required to revitalise ‘Chicago of Fife’

Cowdenbeath High Street.
Cowdenbeath High Street.

A local councillor has warned that revitalising the town once known as the Chicago of Fife will not happen overnight.

Work has already started on improvements in a bid to help Cowdenbeath follow in the footsteps of Lochgelly, which was last year named Scotland’s most improved town in the Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum Awards.

Cowdenbeath Area Committee convener Linda Erskine said: “Lochgelly was in a very similar situation.

“Although it did get that award in 2016, it took about 20 years to get it.

“This will not happen overnight because if we do something that’s a quick fix it’s not sustainable.

“If everybody in the Cowdenbeath area thinks it will happen very quickly, it won’t, but it will take everybody in the area to make it happen.”

Cowdenbeath was dubbed the Chicago of Fife after its population mushroomed in the late 1800s, during the height of the area’s mining industry.

Andrew Walker of Fife Council’s Town Centre Development Unit said Cowdenbeath was unique because of its concentration of independent businesses.

“It’s a place where there are more independents than there are nationals. Cowdenbeath is unique because it does have businesses that have been there for a long period of time,” he said.

Work has already started to make the town more attractive to visitors including a huge mural in Brunton Square paying tribute to the town’s mining heritage.

And events have been held to encourage footfall in the town including a craft fair, civic week and Christmas lights switch on.

However, Mr Walker said more could be done to market the town

“There’s a strong civic pride within Cowdenbeath,” he said.

“It’s building on that and getting people in the town to realise it is their town centre.”

“We’re really bad at selling ourselves. We’ve got a great town centre but we don’t market it really well.”

Residents and business owners have been urged to take ownership of town centre improvements.

However, one of the strategies to get local people involved met with a mixed response.

Just short of £5,000 was spent on covering bollards with coloured paper.

Councillor Darren Watt, who had previously criticised the move, told the area committee at a recent meeting: “I want to take the opportunity to apologise for any embarrassment or additional work I may have caused. But a lot of people thought here we go, another consultation, more chat.

“I’ve got such a big passion for Cowdenbeath, but if we’re not very careful we’re going to end up with this beautiful town centre but no businesses and shops left.”

Councillor Mary Lockhart said: “I really value what’s happening in relation to town centres.

“However, I’m concerned about the impact that having a hub in terms of the town centre has on the investment in the communities around it.

“What that does is take the investment and the people away from those villages and they don’t develop.”

Mr Walker responded: “It’s all down to resources and the bottom line is there are four of us in the team looking after 32 town centres. It’s almost impossible to cover the whole of Fife.”

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