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All Change on High Street

Penicuik’s High Street has suffered many closures over the past ten years, but is the only way up?

Blazoned with “To Let” and “For Sale” placards, Penicuik’s High Street has certainly seen better days. The north side of the shopping thoroughfare had an occupancy rate of 36% last year, well above the national average of 13.7%. Failure to attract tenants to long term empty units meant landlords lost approximately £100,000 in combined rent.

However after months of wrangling, estate agents, Knight Frank, have finally secured a new owner for half of Penicuik’s former Co-operative department store. Six High Street is now owned by solicitors Allan McDougall, who seized the opportunity to buy the unit, allowing them to expand in the future. The company currently operates out of 20 High Street and say they have “no immediate plans to relocate”. The somewhat grander accommodation at 6 High Street has lain empty for many years after Semi Chem relocated to the shopping precinct. It now requires a substantial amount of interior work, a process which Allan McDougall says could take “some time”. Knight Frank are keen to stress, though, that the larger 10 High Street is still up for sale.

Unfortunately it’s not all good news. Nickel & Dime ceased trading last month and the unit has since been placed on the market for £30,000 pa. The previous owners left the following notice in the window:

Sorry, we closed for reasons: – will open soon

That now seems unlikely. Owner, Scotmid, was faced with not one but two high profile empty units, amounting to £46,000 pa in losses. However, as 20 High Street came onto the market, long term vacant 24-26 High Street left the market. After lying empty for seven years, the former butcher unit has now been let on “confidential terms”. This means we’ll have to wait to see whether it will reopen as a butcher, or whether it will be used for its new use class, a hot food takeaway. The controversial ruling was made by the Scottish Government following the council’s rejection on “over-saturation” fears.

There is still no luck for Penicuik’s former Clydesdale Bank, which after a short spell as an energy advice centre, rejoined the market. It is now available to buy for a mere £150,000. The Railway Tavern will reopen in the Summer following a complete renovation.

Penicuik’s Business Improvement District co-ordinator Edward Linton-Smith told us these changes must come as a “call-to-arms” for businesses:

Nickel & Dime helped to diversify the town centre’s product range.  It’s a shame to see it go, but we must not let it dampen spirits.  With deals closed and interest shown in other key commercial properties along the High Street in the last few months, we should see some exciting new developments in 2015.  I hope the news of Nickel & Dime serves as a call-to-arms for businesses in the town centre to rally together and prevent a trend towards further closures.

Mr Linton-Smith is spearheading the plans to create a business friendly alliance in the town. This collaborative group would focus on improving key aspects, such as parking and signage, hopefully, in turn, increasing footfall and cashflow for struggling businesses. A preliminary questionnaire was completed by prospective BID businesses last year highlighting where the shop owners’ concerns lay. First priority was attracting new retailers, be that national or local start-ups. Following that, the concerns were largely evenly weighted, with “attractiveness” and “access” polling in second and third respectively.

Of the 36 respondents, out of a possible 95 eligible businesses, the majority supported the establishment of a Business Improvement District. Twenty-seven owners or managers said they would vote “yes”, eight said they were undecided and one said they would object to the proposals.

Edward Linton-Smith says the time to act in now:

Penicuik First has listened to the ideas of every business on the High Street and around the “BID Area” to find out how best to achieve this, and will be visiting them all again this spring to showcase the Business Plan that those ideas formed.  Let’s not delay any further: the vote on Penicuik First will be on 26th May 2015, and every eligible voter will receive a full, printed Business Plan before ballot papers are distributed.  Remember to vote, and get your “X” in the right place!  Please get in touch with and let’s open up the discussion.

We’ll have more on the project in the Spring.