Vote for Kirkcaldy!

Kirkcaldy has been shortlisted in Scotland’s 2018 Future Town Design competition. This Blog looks at the town’s submission – building on what the town’s Business Improvement District has achieved in its first decade …

Kirkcaldy4All’s BID manager, Bill Harvey says: “We’re delighted that our vision has been included in the shortlist for Scotland’s Towns Partnership’s Future Town Design competition.” Bill explains: “The competition is aimed at stimulating conversations, provoking ideas and encouraging new approaches to highlight what our towns could look like now and in the future. We are working on a series of initiatives that we believe qualify Kirkcaldy for inclusion in this year’s competition and we’re thrilled we’ve been shortlisted.

The following provides information on Kirkcaldy’s submission: the winner is chosen by the public through an online vote. You can find more on this year’s shortlist including a link to the vote via this link.

Some 240 years ago, Adam Smith wrote of the invisible hand … the unseen forces that balance supply and demand in a free market. He also wrote of the division of labour. His arguments predicted our country’s industrial revolution and our ability to undersell and out-produce all of our competitors. In Smith’s day, Kirkcaldy built ships, made pins and nails … and was a successful port.

Roll the clock forward to another economist – former Kirkcaldy MP, Gordon Brown. His book, My Scotland, Our Britain spoke of his ancestors’ pre-industrial work, primarily employed on the land and moving from farm to farm to find jobs. Many hark back to what is seen as Kirkcaldy’s heyday when coalmines surrounded the town. A century ago, mining employed close to 30,000 men in Fife, producing 10 million tons of the black stuff every year.

But before the mines? Linoleum. Before linoleum? Canvas. Before the canvas and the queer-like smell? It was pottery, flax and linen that made the town tick. Kirkcaldy has always evolved.

In 2016, the credit data group Experian published a study highlighting Kirkcaldy as the home to Britain’s best-performing micro-businesses (those with a turnover below £100,000). It outperformed … well, everywhere. Those businesses are clearly listening to their customers.

And yet the headlines often do Kirkcaldy down, especially when it comes to the high street. No wonder. It has Britain’s longest high street – so when something hits it, it is harder felt.

The closures of, among others, McDonalds & Tesco were seen by some as the death knell. Now M&S are closing. Debenhams and others will follow. The high street is the town’s face; it bears its scars for all to see … but the closure of national retailers should not be seen as the final nail.

The town’s Business Improvement District can do little to affect closures: there are a multitude of reasons why some of the bigger stores have gone – or are going:

  • Inadequate premises
  • Inappropriate leases
  • Mismanagement at HQ level
  • Business model realignment
  • Local authority failings
  • Devolved and national government policies affecting business rates and planning

Add in the 2008 crash plus the exponential growth in online shopping and it is clear that not just Kirkcaldy – but every town and city – has faced unique challenges over the last decade.

Despite all that, Kirkcaldy retains a strong occupancy rate in the town centre and the BID has been fundamental in helping to create an environment where businesses can start up. The fact that Kirkcaldy has a higher percentage of independent businesses than the UK average makes us proud.

Yes, there are empty premises, but the town continues to attract smaller, independent businesses that see the value of trading in a town that has a strong identity with a growing population.

British philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton, wrote this year of the international focus on capitalism: “Modern capitalism is a system devised for the benefit of absentees. Victorian capitalists usually belonged to the same country, the same town and the same faith as those who worked for them, and could not escape, as their successors can, the demands of neighbourhood. Those who defend the new globalized capitalism must show how it might come down to earth, among the real people who depend on it.

Kirkcaldy4All is down to earth – among real people. We recognise the unique opportunity: to adopt Adam Smith’s entrepreneurial spirit and to embrace change.

The BID commissioned a report to explore the opportunities afforded by changes to the town’s retail offering – and is developing that work as it counts down to a re-ballot for a third term in 2020. This submission shows the town’s ambition – to be Scotland’s Independents’ Town – where independent businesses thrive, encourage new entrants to the market place and help to portray a new Kirkcaldy … one that attracts investment and opportunity for all.

2020 … and beyond …

The remit of the FutureDesign Competition requests submissions that include “genuine potential for development”. It mentions building redevelopment, cultural initiatives, transport features, digital deployment as well as new uses for existing public or vacant space.

Our vision for Kirkcaldy includes all these – and more. We’re working through an eight stepped process:

  • Step 1: Property analysis – a complete review of all commercial property in the BID area to understand the town’s current offering, shortcomings and opportunities. Part of this identifies vacant property – by size, condition, ownership, lease terms. From this, a ‘hit list’ is being drawn up that will rank available properties for usability.
  • Step 2: An Independents’ Forum – a gathering of proactive independent businesses in the town to be part of the group that helps to drive the initiative. There are representatives from each key category – comparison, convenience, services and leisure. The group is helping us to best to understand the pros and cons of independent trading and the opportunities for new entrants to fill the gaps.
  • Step 3: the above data is helping us to create a target list of potential occupants. Crucially, these will be independent businesses in their own right that are within a 0-60 minute drive time of the town.
  • Step 4: using the BID’s ground-breaking work in rate reviews, we are identifying and communicating with landlords to share the opportunities.
  • Step 5: a targeted approach will then follow, encouraging trial trading and pop-ups to demonstrate the benefits of being a part of Kirkcaldy – Scotland’s Independents’ Town.
  • Step 6: this will lead to an inaugural Festival of Independents that will be delivered on Adam Smith’s Birthday in June 2019.
  • Step 7: the BID’s renewal ballot is in January 2020: the Festival will be a key driver that will build to showcase the town and its independent offering.
  • Step 8: none of this will work unless it is monitored and evaluated against recognized targets within a plan. That measurement is built in, ensuring the town continues to evolve, recognizing the unique value brought by independent businesses … those who are invested in the town. Those who live here, work here – support the town and its community and believe in its future. Dare we say, those at the coal face.

And we are going beyond this project: over the coming weeks, we’re expanding the remit of the research and analysis to consider opportunities outwith the BID’s current boundary: to consider the wider town and especially Kirkcaldy’s derelict land. Over 45 acres has already been identified. In some instances, the land – in a mix of private and public ownership – has been derelict and unused for more than 30 years. Our plan will address this and explore opportunities for such land to be brought into constructive, commercial use for the benefit of our community … for today … for 2020 and beyond.

Thanks for reading!