Future plans for the continued improvement of Kilmarnock’s Town Centre took an important step forward at East Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet meeting last week.
And following last week’s Cabinet discussions, the emphasis is very much on moving forward with partners and the wider community to bring about change and future development.
As Council Leader Douglas Reid says: “Reading this report is a great reminder of how far Kilmarnock has come with a huge number of regeneration projects around the town centre, but, it also shows we still have some way to go, and there are some very good ideas of what the future could look like. These public consultations, surveys and studies give us confidence that we’re working towards the best possible prospects for the people who have contributed the most to forming these plans and who count most – those who live, work, trade and visit here.
“Kilmarnock Town Centre is about much more than shops. As William McIlvanney rightly said our biggest asset is our people, and we need community leaders and organisations to join us in this effort. Passion for our town is in our DNA. It’s part of our identity and what we do with it next is up to all of us, working together.
“There’s so much more to the area than retail and we’re actively looking at re-purposing many of our buildings and spaces. Alternative uses for former shops are evolving all the time and the Celebrate Kilmarnock Team is already succeeding in researching and bringing exciting new schemes, events and visions into reality.”
“The insights we’ve gained from the research behind this report helps shape our work with partners, we’ll be working hard with all concerned to secure the future prosperity of the town.
“Regeneration of our town centres is key to supporting wider economic growth and work continues to secure funding through Ayrshire Growth Deal. Sharon Hodgson, Lead for the Ayrshire Growth Deal said: “Investment from the Ayrshire Growth Deal is directed towards transforming communities through inclusive growth. The funds involved will allow us and our partners to unlock other resources and this will be a significant help towards the regeneration of all our town centres.”
Councillor Reid concludes: “Working with the community through our Vibrant Communities team, and implementation of the Celebrate Kilmarnock Action Plan has meant we can be confident that we’re moving in a direction which will work for our community. The upcoming move of the Celebrate Kilmarnock team to their new office in King Street can only strengthen the sense of community ownership and engagement in the town.
“In the meantime we all need to work together, “act as if we own the place”, look to other towns and learn where they’ve succeeded and failed and build on good ideas and outcomes. This report and all the work that lies behind it is about delivering a people-centred solution, harnessing the love and passion we all feel and using it to deliver lasting and positive change for Kilmarnock”
Rev David Cameron from Kilmarnock’s Laigh Kirk has real experience of how community action can get results. As Chair of Celebrate Kilmarnock he said “Celebrate Kilmarnock has developed into a large body of committed community groups and individuals with a real passion for the town and its people discussing real down-to-earth issues that groups are trying to deal with.
“It is great that the groups from Kilmarnock town centre are making new contacts and that is fabulous. And here’s the thing, if you have good ideas, we’re going to do our best to help people make them happen. Celebrate Kilmarnock’s approach is primarily about changing minds, being proactive, about what ‘we’ can do rather than what ‘others’ should be doing. It has taken us time to get here but I hope people of our town will recognise what can be achieved – the real success is the working together, building the social connections and strengthening the support networks with never a thought about going their own way and competing, it is about complimenting and working together.”
What does the report say?
Following studies, a mix of public meetings, online surveys, expert assessments and land use studies, the focus is now on realising further improvements, keeping up the momentum which has already delivered significant regeneration and opportunity to people who work, live and shop in the town.
The Kilmarnock Town Centre Environmental Improvements Study and the Kilmarnock Bus Station Consultation, which ran simultaneously, identified opportunities within defined areas of the town to expand existing uses or bring new life into underused areas of the town.
In tandem with an online consultation, three community voting meetings were held involving East Ayrshire Forum on Disability, Kilmarnock businesses and a Saturday engagement day for the general public. Nearly 200 people contributed their comments which shaped the final report, supporting further revitalisation of historic buildings, upgrading shop fronts, filling vacant units and opening up access to the river from King Street with the demolition of some surplus buildings.
The wide ranging Bus Station consultation identified a number of operational issues which are now being addressed in conjunction with SPT in order to improve passenger experience.
22 Historic buildings have already been restored in and around John Finnie Street thanks to the highly successful Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme and Townscape Heritage Initiative, and work is now due to start on Kilmarnock’s oldest shop buildings at the corner of Dunlop Street and Strand Street. They will be linked to the new Ingram Enterprise Centre on John Finnie Street which is home to a new concept of serviced offices for young and growing businesses. The two historic buildings will provide flexible space for commercial or community use.
Bringing housing back into the town centre is another of East Ayrshire’s priorities. The 2017 Strategic Housing Plan included details of sites within and close to the Kilmarnock Town Centre Boundary. The Council is currently working with the Scottish Land Commission and SEPA to identify suitable brownfield sites which can be reclaimed for residential use.
Town Centre Health Checks have been run to survey vacant spaces, shops and commercial premises. The closures of Wilko, BHS and JH Donald have pushed the vacancy rate to 15%, 3 % above the national average, the Council and its partners are actively pursuing options to redevelop vacant and derelict sites throughout the town centre. The newly instigated Vacant and Derelict buildings scheme has already made an impact, allowing condition surveys to be undertaken on several properties and facilitating discussions with owners of a number of key properties such as the former cinema in Titchfield Street and the former GPO building.
In Titchfield Street, a study examined newbuild and refurbishment options for the current Galleon Centre. The final decision on whether to refurbish or build new will be taken in consultation with the community as we decide together how Kilmarnock will look and operate and thrive in the future.
At Kilmarnock Railway Station collaboration with the Community Rail Partnership and a number of voluntary sector organisations has revitalised the buildings, bringing new life to previously vacant rooms and offering numerous diverse groups a sociable and supportive environment in which they can meet and flourish.
Ambitious proposals to revamp the bus station are also being examined and will again be part of the consultation process.
Partnership with non-profit organisations has also resulted in one of the most exciting developments to come to Kilmarnock in recent times. Thanks to a Creative Space Study looking at demand for workshop spaces for creative and cultural activity for professional and community use, and co-inciding with a study into possible uses for the former Kilmarnock Academy buildings, Centrestage Communities will now be moving there, complementing the Cultural Quarter already occupied by the Dick Institute and Palace Theatre Complex.
In John Dickie Street, the Robert Burns World Federation has moved into the newly refurbished former Citizen’s Advice Bureau building. The work was done by East Ayrshire, who are also assessing the future use of the Civic Centre buildings as part of the Council’s Transformation Strategy.