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High Street c 1950 © Ye Olde Penicuik (and its respective owner)

Opinion: Let’s Step into the Past

Penicuik’s forthcoming Business Improvement District ballot is just the beginning and could usher in a new era for the town, writes our editor.

Whilst daily routines trundle on, something is stirring in Penicuik. Deep in the bowels that are the town’s inner workings there is a little known feeling starting to rise up. Hope. Hope for a successful future as an independent trader town.

This hope though is directly linked to the delivery of a Business Improvement District (or BID for short). Penicuik’s businesses are currently undertaking some preliminary work before polls on the establishment of a BID are sent out early next year. Should businesses vote in favour, there will be a list of priorities, namely the parking provision, way finding signage and shop front improvements. These priorities are those highlighted by the public and will probably be echoed by the local businesses themselves. I’m sure you will agree, after all parking is severely limited to prevent use as a park and ride, way finding signage is non-existent and the shopfronts on high street look like something straight out of a horror film.

Quick fixes can be offered for the parking and signage. Parking can be sorted with a pay on exit system that charges only for stays over three hours on a sliding tariff. Whilst signage can be fixed with a couple of £600 way finding columns placed in high traffic areas.

For the shop facades though we must look back into the past, the 1950’s to be exact. As you can see from the image at the start of the article, Penicuik’s High Street looked noticeably different. There is a certain rustic charm to the area. Exposed stonework gives the air of a historical country town, whilst regal shop fronts offer passer-bys a chance to visually sample the traders’ wares. There isn’t an over-imposing sign in sight. And there we reach the crux of the matter. Penicuik’s north high street is about as inviting as the dentist; you will enter only once every six months and won’t stay longer than a couple of minutes. This crucial street in the welcoming of tourists has suffered greatly through the rise of twenty first century marketing. Desperate to catch passing trade, businesses have created elaborate bold signs, devoid of planning regulations. The pleas of “save me” only further detracting from the dismal shop choice (although we are lucky to have several strong local retailers).

What can be done then? The answer is fairly straight forward. There must be a renaissance of the heritage shop front. From the three bay entrance to the pilasters and awnings, we must return to the historical ideals. This has recently been achieved in Dalkeith, who implemented a Townscape Heritage Initiative to restore and regenerate their dilapidated shop facades. Through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and various other fund giving bodies, businesses could apply for funds to upgrade to the new shop front specifications.

So Penicuik needs a Townscape Heritage Initiative. Yes one could argue it is just a quick botox treatment on a dated building but I would counter that. This is a facelift. These faces are detrimental to influencing passing trade. The easier on the eye, the more likely travellers will be to stop and explore the shopping area. So the effects of these improvement are far greater than just visual; for mentally pleasurable designs will entice, whilst historical connections will encourage nostalgia and a desire to explore the past. Just look at our mock of a universal shop front:

28:10 High Street 2


The natural stone facing has been restored with the removal of the over-imposing signage. The local stone would be evident from 6 High Street to 26 High Street, mirroring the opposite side of the street. Shop fronts would be the same, however the colours could be altered to convey the brand’s own identity. Fixed fabric awnings would be permitted and each shop would be identifiable from a distance using circular hanging signs. Heritage street lighting would be implemented at path level to heighten the heritage experience but A701 street lighting would still illuminate the majority of the area for safety. A new shared surface would run from the shopping precinct onto north High Street and into Lamb’s Pend to direct the footfall. North High Street could be closed by raising bollards to allow markets and events to be held in the historical town centre (as the image shows below):

28:10 High Street

These improvements could be implemented with a fairly small grant through a Townscape Heritage Initiative. If a Business Improvement District is formed, and for the sake of the town I hope it will be, we will be closer than ever to making these improvements. Of course they are just the beginning, but High Street is crucial to capturing trade. We can either continue enlarging shop signage or we can look back into the past for inspiration and act accordingly to safeguard the area’s past through a scheme for the future. I know which one I would prefer.

What do you think? Do you like the idea of a shopfront renovation scheme? If not, what are your “radical” ideas for Penicuik? Let us know in the comment box below: