Kilmarnock town centre mythbuster

The way we shop has changed dramatically over the last few years. It’s had a huge effect on the retail sector and high streets all over the UK, so we and our communities have to think differently about how to attract footfall into the town centre. 

Here at East Ayrshire Council our teams are already working with communities on proposals to use their £1.7m share of a new £50m Scottish Government fund aimed at boosting town centre regeneration. Announced in the recent Scottish Government budget, the fund has been set up to help make high streets more diverse, sustainable and successful as they meet the challenge of changing use patterns.

We know Kilmarnock people are passionate about the town centre and want answers to their questions, so here are some Frequently Asked Questions to help answer your queries.

At East Ayrshire Council our underlying principle is: 'People are at the heart of everything we do'.  As such, engagement with and the involvement of communities is an essential part of our work. Doing things with the community is crucial to the success of all regeneration activity in our towns and successful engagement is essential to ensure this activity is community led. To stay up to date with our latest regeneration news you can sign up to our mailing list

In 2013, to encourage shoppers in to Kilmarnock and at the request of local businesses, the council stopped charging for car parks on a Saturday. Initially, this was positively received by retailers but has not achieved its original aim and is having an adverse effect;  long stay parking is preventing the availability of spaces that would usually be used by shoppers.

The Council collect business rates but we don’t set them - these are set by the Scottish Government according to the rateable value of the property, and the we can't vary that. We can offer a reduction in rates but must meet this from our own budget - which would mean taking money out of other much needed services. There are many different types of rates and potential rate relief – to see a full breakdown please view our Reduction in business rates page

The Council own very little property in Kilmarnock town centre - nearly all the empty units are privately owned, so we have no control over the rents or who goes in them. Contrary to what people might think, the empty units on the High Street do attract a lot of interest. The problem is old buildings like these are harder and more costly to maintain than modern ones. Many of them have been allowed to fall into disrepair by their owners and the level of investment needed before they could be reoccupied often puts potential buyers and tenants off.

The Council has limited power to force owners to pay for their upkeep. There are also rules governing how much public money can be spent on private buildings, so sadly any suggestion that the Council should buy all the empty units on King Street just isn't a viable option.

The Council has tried to help by filling some key units on the High Street ourselves – such as the Celebrate Kilmarnock Office. Shifting the focus of the High Street to offer more than just retail (and investing in heritage buildings) will create the footfall which we hope will make Kilmarnock town centre a more attractive place for property owners to invest in.

We also have an empty homes officer who works with empty homes owners to bring empty residential properties throughout East Ayrshire into use. 

The Empty Homes officer can offer advice and assistance on:

  • selling options like estate agents, auction houses
  • private Renting
  • interest free loans provided by EAC
  • our ‘buy back’ scheme
  • energy efficiency
  • our Matchmaker Scheme whereby owners can provide details of their property and we can pass this information on to potential purchasers
  • safety and security
  • renovation overview
  • VAT discounts

Our Empty Homes Team which co-works with owners to bring empty properties back to life. An exciting proposal is the Missing Share scheme which we can put in place to allow maintenance and repair work to be carried out in a block with multiple owners where the minority refuse to co-operate. 

A grant fund can also be accessed by owners of commercial properties in Kilmarnock town centre to convert commercial properties into residential properties and works in tandem with the Empty Homes Loan Fund.

This isn't as simple as it sounds and there are many reasons why. For a start, High Streets are in decline everywhere - the problems Kilmarnock has faced in the last 20 years are happening across the UK, even in big cities. More and more people are shopping online - around 20% of all retail is now via the internet, compared to 5% a decade ago.

As a result many retailers are shifting to online sales or going out of business completely. In 2018 alone, almost 20,000 shops shut in the UK and that will rise in 2019. It isn't just shops that are going online - banks, building societies and travel agents are vacating units too. And even those big retail chains which are still thriving are concentrating on the most viable locations, which are often in purpose-built out-of-town retail centres.

There are still very many good places to shop in Kilmarnock. This includes some big names, featured on King Street and in Burns Mall. There are also lots of independent niche retailers where you’ll be able to buy exclusive items with great personal service – these are particularly to be found in the Heritage Quarter around Bank Street and College Wynd. And with a big variety of of pubs and restaurants to suit all budgets, the town centre is still an attractive place to visit.  Of course these businesses all depend on support from local people if they are to survive and thrive.

But the truth is the world has changed and town centres need to offer a mix of uses - not just shops. The town has lots of great cafes, pubs and restaurants - with new ones opening all the time. Quality office and residential space will also increase the number of people in the town centre. We want to work with building owners to help them fill empty units with other things. And by promoting what makes us unique - our culture, heritage and events - we can drive new footfall to existing businesses and create attractive conditions in which new ones will want to open. 

This was outwith our control. But the fact is, larger retailers and supermarkets prefer out-of-town sites more than town centre spaces, with large units needing minimum maintenance, large areas for delivery trucks and easy, accessible parking for the weekly shop. 

To combat the out-of-town experience, it’s crucial that the town centre offers something different and includes a mix of uses to entice the footfall of consumers, workers and leisure users. 

We want Kilmarnock to be inclusive and welcoming and we want to ensure people who visit Kilmarnock to be welcomed warmly to our town.

The new Government Rights, Respect, Recovery drug and alcohol document published at the end of 2018 states:

“Everyone has the right to health and to live free from the harms of alcohol and drugs. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and dignity and for their individual recovery journey to be fully supported.”

The document further reminds us that for those experiencing problematic alcohol and drug use often have other challenges in their life such as poverty, inequality and health issues. This means they need to be supported rather than be stigmatised.

As a community it's important that we show compassion and try to understand people experiencing drug and alcohol problems and do our bit to support them in their recovery journey.

Watch this video about the Stigma 2 Respect Campaign

The local alcohol and drug partnership (ADP) is committed to promoting recovery and tackling stigma

There are a range of services in Kilmarnock to help people with or affected by those with drug and alcohol issues including Addiction and  NHS Community Addiction Team

Contact Information

Town Centre Regeneration Team
Council Headquarters
London Road
Kilmarnock
KA3 7BU
Telephone: 01563 576075