Editorial: A postcard from Ayr where the sun shines no brighter

The weekly opinion of the Editor on topical events affecting Moray.

Ayr town centre - facing the same problems so familiar to Moray.
Ayr town centre – facing the same problems so familiar to Moray.

IN TERMS OF population Ayr is a town that is over twice the size of Elgin – in terms of the problems being faced South Ayrshire is not so different from Elgin and the wider Moray.

Writing this week’s editorial from the frankly quite wonderful Turus-Mara Guest House in Ayr I found myself reading the local equivalent to the Northern Scot – and going by the text I could just as easily have been at home having breakfast, the story was the same (except perhaps for the Haggis at breakfast, remarkable!)

“Eight years on and still no end in sight” is the headline in the Ayrshire Post. Then the opening salvo in the front page article “Clueless council officials say there will be no change to traffic flows in Ayr – because they don’t know what’s going to become of the High Street”.

The bone of contention here is that for eight years the local council has shipped the problem of what to do about the decline of their town centre from one committee to another, one consultation exercise to another, focus groups, surveys, steering group meetings, round and round they go – for eight years, no decisions just talk, talk, talk.

Sound familiar? Apart from the open hostility and criticism from the local weekly, very familiar.

The main thrust of the issues is if traffic should be allowed to return to the main street in the main town – and the fact that the authority just spent £120,000 bringing in “experts” to say why cars should be allowed back on their High Street. In recent weeks we’ve heard the first rumblings of exactly the same thing for Elgin – letting ‘buses and cyclists’ through Elgin town centre, we are told, might just regenerate what is fast resembling a wild west ghost town.

Last year Ayr received £716,000 from European Funding for a variety of projects aimed at saving their town centre. A town centre steering group was formed to decide how best to spend that – with an Ayr Business Improvement Group being high on their agenda. My advice to Ayr is to look north at Elgin before throwing cash at their many schemes – if they have not already done so (thrown their money away, that is).

Elgin’s shops are hurting but are not alone. Here in Ayr they had 100 empty town centre shops last year – this year that has risen to 130. “These shops used to employ people, providing revenue to be spent in other local businesses and services,” local businesswoman Debbie Cairns said, adding: “How many more consultations, surveys and steering group meetings is it going to take before someone acts?”

Ms Cairns blasted at the councillors in a letter to each and every one of them after the latest steering group meeting suggested bunting and flags to attract customers. She hit out at councillors and their officials inability to actually take action rather than ponder what to do year in, year out, telling them “If you don’t know the answer, find someone who does”.

No, it is not hard to see the similarities between South Ayrshire and Moray – but people are fighting back, as evidenced by my very reason for being here. The Scottish Air Show yesterday was an absolute delight – well over 50,000 people attracted to the town’s beach for what has to be the biggest and best event of its kind, anywhere.

Few parts of Scotland can boast such a natural theatre for such an event – one that provides a massive annual boost to the local economy I’ll wager in cash terms even makes the wonderful Spirit of Speyside look like and annual Fete.

But wait – don’t we have massive, spacious beaches in Moray? Don’t we have not one but two military airfields right beside them? Don’t we have the drive and will to make such a thing happen in Moray?

We certainly have the first two.