THE news that Marks and Spencer is shutting up shop in the town centre should not have come as a big surprise to anyone. The store is too small, has a limited range and was, frankly, tired. M&S could have expanded there in the past but didn’t. The writing has been on the wall for some time.
Does it matter though? I think it does. Alright, we have a town centre which is a shopping precinct and, therefore, could be anywhere. But it is still the focal point in the town and we need it to be successful. Town centres throughout the country are under pressure as we switch our buying habits.
They need to offer variety. They need people to live there – and I believe that can be achieved in EK. They need to offer a reason to go there. The owners of our town centre have invested to make it a more-attractive destination. The leisure end is outstanding with a revamped cinema that makes going to see a film in East Kilbride a pleasure. Why would you go anywhere else now?
But we need a better variety of shops. South Lanarkshire Council can help to influence things. They should draw up a strategy that directs investment to the town centre. When granting permission for retailers elsewhere they should consider the knock-on effects.
I agree with Craig Smith, the chair of the East Kilbride Task Force, that the council should take a town centre-first approach. He believes we have enough retail space in the town and should not grant more. I haven’t always shared that view but I am coming round to it. The danger of giving the go ahead to more out-of-town developments is that retailers will ship out of the town centre and then what?
We need to see some leadership from South Lanarkshire Council. It appears to be lacking at the moment. For example, we still don’t know if the council wants to push ahead with the expensive and needless plan to dual Stewartfield Way. Why don’t we have an answer to this? The council commissioned a traffic study of the whole town at least two years ago. What did it show? Do we have to go down the Freedom of Information route to find out? We haven’t sorted out the parking situation at our two stations. This has been a problem for years and surely must be dealt with before yet more houses are built here. A new primary school is needed to cope with all the new homes. What’s the plan for that? Why is there no agreement with developers yet? Maybe there is.
East Kilbride was a go-to place when the new town was built. It was designed with green spaces and safe walking and cycling routes. Those routes have deteriorated. Most people won’t even know they are there. And the council even wanted to build on one of our parks.
I want to see some vision. There are plenty of people in this town with the drive and will to make it succeed. We need to work together to achieve that.