The future of Dumfries town centre was top of the agenda at a meeting between MSPs and the managers of the Loreburne shopping centre on Dumfries High Street.
SNP MSPs Joan McAlpine and Emma Harper met with Ross Campbell, Senior Asset Manager from Edinburgh House, owners of the Loreburne Centre and Jim Ireland, centre manager.
The shopping centre bosses told the MSPs of their fears for the town centre if Next retail got council planning permission to develop a new unit at Cuckoo Bridge retail park.
Next want the council to drop its prohibition on non-bulky goods retail at Cuckoo Bridge which was put in place to protect the high street.
But Mr Campbell and Mr Ireland told the MSPs that if Next left the Loreburne Centre other high street names would follow and it would be the kiss of death for the town centre, which already has a number of empty units.
They pointed out that Stirling council had recently refused a similar application from Next to move out of town. Despite threatening to close their operation if they failed to get planning Next have remained in Stirling and have since expanded their retail offering in the city centre.
Joan McAlpine MSP wrote to the previous council leader, Ronnie Nicholson, last year urging him to protect the vibrancy of the town centre in all planning and policy decisions and expressing concern about the Next proposal.
She also met with Next at The Scottish Parliament to hear their arguments.
Ms McAlpine said:
“Mr Ireland has been in Dumfries a long time and has made a great success of Loreburne which has expanded capacity extensively since his arrival and has recently undergone refurbishment under its new owners. I was very concerned to hear that if Next leaves the Loreburne centre they have been told that other major retailers will follow, creating a domino effect of closures in the town centre. They pointed to other towns, such as Greenock, where the mall is half empty due to moves out of town. So although Next say they will create more jobs with an expanded new unit at Cuckoo Bridge the fear is these gains would be wiped out of job losses elsewhere. This is a decision for councillors, not MSPs - but I hope that they will think very seriously about the future of the town centre on coming to their decision.”
Ms McAlpine continued:
“Next have said they will close if they cannot move, but the example of Stirling shows that it is not always the case. After I met Next I wrote to Loreburne who told me that they were willing to offer the retailer expanded floor space and make other accommodations to ensure they stayed.”
Ms Harper also commented:
“Given the exciting initiatives that are happening - such as The Midsteeple Quarter by The Stove Network - I would hate to see any decisions made that would result in any fallen footfall throughout the town centre where I live and have worked for many years.”
Both MSPs rent an office in the Loreburne Centre.