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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Out-of-town 'threat' to Buddies
By Jamie McIvor
Business correspondent, BBC Scotland

Paisley High Street
Many retailers have abandoned Paisley's High Street
It is Scotland's largest town but its town centre is nothing to be proud of.

The Scottish Executive has drawn up new planning policies to try to turn round decades of decline on the High Street.

But the fear is it could be too little too late for towns like Paisley. The situation today must sadden anyone who knows the town.

It has been a long decline, made worse by one of Scotland's most prestigious shopping centres - the Braehead development a few miles away.

Packed with stores like the furniture shop Ikea, Braehead attracts more than one million customers a month.

The one-way system has so many dead ends, you just can't find your way around unless you really know Paisley well
Thomas Sinclair
Paisley jeweller

Those who are left in Paisley town centre say planners have made matters worse.

Jeweller Thomas Sinclair has owned a shop - Jewelfare - in the High Street for three years.

He said: "The traffic is quite heavy in the High Street, it is almost impossible to park.

"The one-way system has so many dead ends, you just can't find your way around unless you really know Paisley well."

Mr Sinclair's story tells you about the decline of the town centre.

He said: "This business used to support three families.

"The parents of the previous owner retired so they didn't take an income from it.

"The sister had to leave because there was no income left for her and the previous owner just decided it was dropping so dramatically he better find a job for himself."

Town centre 'protection'

Mr Sinclair now repairs jewellery as well, when he bought the business it just sold completed goods.

The Paisley Piazza (Picture from Undiscovered Scotland)
The Piazza in Paisley is one of two shopping centres in the town

This has helped turn round the decline in trade.

He added: "In the three years I've been here, the turnover has increased slightly, between six and 10% and hopefully that will continue for the next few years."

The new guiding principles of planning policy should - at the very least - offer more protection for town centres.

It says out-of-town sites should only get the go-ahead as a last resort and development should focus on existing town centres.

Niall Stuart, from the Federation of Small Businesses, said the guidelines are a start but more help is needed.

He said: "There is undoubtedly a future for towns like Paisley but only if politicians are prepared to take action and give small High Street traders the opportunity to compete with the big guys.

"We need action on high rent and rate bills small businesses have to pay, often much more per square feet than large out-of-town shops."

He suggests making it easy for people to use shops through better public transport and free on-street parking.

While the planning process may now stack the odds against big out-of town developments like Braehead it does not mean there will be no new threats.

Passing trade

Work is well under way on a 350m shopping centre being built a few miles away in Pollok, in the south side of Glasgow.

The sheer scale of the project is impressive.

But people behind it say it is not something for small businesses in a place like Paisley to be worried about.

There is still a strong economic future for Paisley town centre
Jim Harkins
Renfrewshire Council leader

That is because they are talking about attracting big name retailers and customers from across central Scotland and beyond.

Whatever it says in the business plan, some in Paisley are fearful about its effects.

One problem in the town is with the big retailers gone, small shops are missing out on passing trade

Mr Stuart said: "High Streets and town centres absolutely depend on the right mix between large retailers and small niche shops.

"That's what attracts people into these areas.

"What we are asking for is some action to take some of the load off smaller businesses and give them a chance to compete with larger retailers."

'Level playing field'

Renfrewshire Council leader Jim Harkins said Paisley was no different to town centres across Britain and predicted a bright future.

He said: "There is still a strong economic future for Paisley town centre and the council is working closely with local businesses and partner agencies to bring that about.

"Renfrewshire has led the way in putting the case to Scottish Executive ministers about the need for planning, transport and business policies at national level which will give town centres a level playing field to compete."

Councillor Harkins said a study would be launched with Scottish Enterprise Renfrewshire to look at the range of issues affecting the future of the town centre and "positive options for change".

He added: "There has also been strong recent interest by major retailers in occupying currently, or soon to be, vacant shop units.

"There's a lot going on to support Paisley town centre.

"It's also becoming an increasingly popular place to live with a number of major new residential developments in place or on the drawing board.

"Of course there have been problems in recent years but everyone involved, including the council, is addressing the issues."

Bid to lift town and city centres
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21 Jun 05 |  Scotland
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09 Jun 06 |  Glasgow and West

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