The owner of one of Perth’s best known businesses has called for swift action to halt the decline of the city’s retail heart.
Carpets and furnishings retailer James Barclay, 71, entered the debate on how to revitalise the city in the wake of the shock demise of McEwens of Perth.
“I feel strongly about the town and how badly it is going wrong,” said Mr Barclay at his Glasgow Road business.
“There are unfortunately very few privately owned shops left.
“Perth is becoming a city of pound shops and charity shops.”
A pivotal moment for the city centre was when permission was granted for the Highland Gateway retail park at Inveralmond on the edge of Perth, according to Mr Barclay.
“In my view the council must have some responsibility for the demise of the town centre,” he said.
“When I was a board member of the chamber of commerce a few years ago, a planning application came in for the Highland Gateway the chamber objected strongly to that getting passed.
“To me it is unfair competition for retailers in the town as there is free car parking and it is taking footfall away from the town centre which we badly need and many thousands of customers shop there every week.
“At the time there was space at St Catherine’s retail park, which is an extension of the town centre.”
He conceded this battle had been lost, but called for action to bring people back into the city.
“The council must address the parking problem in the centre of Perth,” he said.
“We need to reintroduce parking around the city hall as it used to be lost revenue because of this must run into thousands and thousands of pounds.”
He also backed the calls of some retailers to reverse the pedestrianisation of St John Street and called on the council to look at rates in the city centre to help business.
Lastly, Mr Barclay said something must be done to tackle eyesore buildings in Perth such as St Paul’s Church, which has now lain empty for nearly 30 years, blighting the centre.
He said dire warnings had been made six months ago about the state of the building but a solution appeared no nearer being found.
“Has any progress been made?” he asked, somewhat rhetorically.
Council chief counters criticismPerth and Kinross Council is “open to ideas” on how to make Perth city centre more attractive, but would resist ripping up pedestrianised areas, says Jim
Valentine, the council’s deputy chief executive.
“As a dynamic small city, Perth continues to perform well in terms of its independent shopping experience which is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike,” he said.
“While the city centre shopping experience is evolving, this is occurring across the world as consumers adapt to a wider virtual market and retailers attempt to keep up.
“It is for businesses to position themselves and work with agencies to maximise their opportunities in this shifting landscape.
“City centre streets are now as much social spaces as they are transport routes and the current city centre arrangements in Perth have allowed the development of its caf culture and attractive events programme.
“While we appreciate that there will always be those who hark back to a golden age of High street shopping, history shows that every major settlement has adapted and changed over the years.
“While the council is open to any ideas for making the city centre more attractive any scheme which brings traffic back in to the narrow city centre streets would come with significant disbenefits in terms of reduced air quality within a recognised Air Quality Management Area, as well as an increase in road safety risks as vehicles and pedestrians are placed in close proximity.”
He continued: “We are also endeavouring to work with developers and private property owners to bring derelict buildings such as St Paul’s back into use although ultimately decisions on use of these buildings lie with their owners.