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North MP calls for action from Sturgeon and May over town centre decline

By Georgia Clyne

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Far north MP Jamie Stone.
Far north MP Jamie Stone.

CAITHNESS, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone is calling on Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May to intervene over the declining fortunes of town centres in his constituency.

In a letter sent to both the First Minister and the Prime Minister, Mr Stone urges them to “use every means at our disposal” to tackle the noticeable decline in Wick and Tain.

He points out that the Scottish government has spoken in the past of action to safeguard town centres – such as the Town Centre Action Plan, published in 2013 – yet “the stark fact is that today the decline continues apace, and has even accelerated”.

Mr Stone’s letter said that Wick faces “unwelcome difficulties” with the closing of town centre businesses, as well as the loss of the local branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and warns that “empty shops are targets for crime and vandalism”. Few local high street businesses remain in Tain, Mr Stone’s home town.

“The presence of these empty and increasingly derelict properties undermines one of the most important industries of the Highlands – namely tourism,” he says.

“I would therefore suggest that properly tackling this problem should now be one of the most urgent issues for both the UK and Scottish governments.

“This problem can no longer be ducked by plans that turn out to be more about words than actions – or, worse still, by means of the argument that the decline in the UK’s high street retail sector is inevitable.

“If we really value our communities and their built heritage, then we must use every means at our disposal – grants, infrastructure investment, tax breaks, local and national planning – so that we can find new ways of bringing these buildings back into sustainable use.”

Speaking yesterday, Mr Stone said: “It pains me greatly to see what is happening, and also to witness nothing better than fine words and hand-wringing when it comes to tackling the problem.

“This letter is my first move in a campaign that I am going to pursue with the greatest vigour. Tain is my home town and I care about it – and the same is true of the other communities that I have the honour to represent.”

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