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B&M Penicuik © Jim Barton, 2013, Geograph

Comment: Time to Reimagine Penicuik Town Centre

Possible withdrawal of anchor B&M, plentiful vacant units and reducing amounts of car parking mean it is finally time to swing the wrecking ball in Penicuik Town Centre.

Over the next few years, Penicuik will be awarded millions of pounds to improve its historical buildings and to implement a shopfront improvement scheme. This will lead to a drastic and needed overhaul of the 18th century High Street but it will also create a colossal divide between the pre and post war town centre.

The so called Penicuik Shopping Centre, otherwise known as the Kentigern Mall or perhaps even the Penicuik Shopping Precinct, was rightly deleted from Penicuik’s conservation area in the latest Midlothian Local Development Plan. This means it will not receive any heritage related funds because, after all, this cluster of slapdash buildings was erected in the mid 20th century and is of little architectural interest, making poor use of space. Unless there happens to be some sort of miraculous surge in retail unit uptake, the shopping centre will continue to decline and this will be shown clearly in its appearance. Heaven forbid B&M Bargains pulls out at the end of their lease next year and we’re left with a horrific black mausoleum to Penicuik’s retail sector.

There must now be a concerted effort from all parties, the private developers, council, community bodies and the general public themselves to design a town centre that works for all. A town centre that replaces empty retail units with much needed residential dwellings and other mixed use facilities but leaves the pre-war fabric intact.

Over the comings months, the Cuckoo is calling for the organisation of a design charrette, “Reimagine Penicuik”, where designers come together with the public to draw up a proposition for a better town centre. Through a series of intensive workshops, walkabouts and presentations an assortment of solutions can be created to envision a contemporary and forward looking Penicuik, aware of its new role as a commuter town but also of its rich and cultured past.

Of course any solution will cost money and a significant amount will be needed to do what is necessary. This should however be no problem for new owners Evolve Estates and ultimately the returns from residential sales or lets will prove far more lucrative than vacant retail units. There would still be a need for retail too, perhaps a handful of shops along the historical John Street, re-energising the precinct, and there is also need for a private leisure facility like a PureGym, which is desperately lacking in Midlothian. Most importantly the parking, or lack off, could be solved by the creation of an underground facility, maybe with a floor of resident spaces and one for public use.

The possibilities of what could be achieved are endless but we need to have a discussion about what the town wants collectively. There will be many in the town who desire nothing more than a supermarket but then there will be those who would prefer a broader assortment of stores. However, there needs to be an understanding that Penicuik cannot be Straiton. It cannot be Peebles. Penicuik is Penicuik and the solution to its problems will be unique.

Let’s just talk about our future with a sense of realism and a healthy dash of hope, you never know those with the ability to enact the change might just listen.