Two-year plan to rejuvenate far north shops

19th January 2011 from Press & Journal, Aberdeen

Caithness Chamber of Commerce has just secured £121,000 funding to launch a two-year programme to breathe fresh life into the retail scene at Thurso and Wick.

A full-time town-centre development officer is to be hired to help stem the steady fall-off in trading activity.

The initiative is also to help the far north independent retail sector counter the impact of the wind-down and eventual loss of the Dounreay nuclear plant.

Like many other towns in Scotland, Thurso and Wick has witnessed shop closures and gap sites, but in the far north there is hope that the rundown in local high street trade can be checked and gradually reversed.

The development officer will have the remit to stimulate new opportunities for the local retail sector, promote tourism and encourage inward investment.

Chamber chief executive Trudy Morris said: “It’s fantastic that we’ve finally got the funding confirmed.

“Apart from creating the new full-time post, we also have a budget for marketing activities.”

She said the idea followed a study commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise in 2007 into the far north retail sector.

This led to a town-centre strategy being devised by the chamber, Caithness Partnership, Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership (CNSRP) and Highland Council.

Funding for the initiative came from the Highland Leader programme and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Anna MacConnell, socio-economic manager for the NDA, said: “The town centres traditionally provided good business opportunities and valuable employment and their vibrancy is important for community wellbeing.

“Concentrating on helping local firms to sustain and develop their trade against a difficult and constantly changing economic landscape will, hopefully, have lasting local benefit.”

The chamber envisages that by 2020 Wick and Thurso will be thriving, well-connected and managed towns that retain their unique and traditional shopping alongside high street brands.

Press & Journal, Aberdeen:

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