South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has said there needs to be a national response to derelict buildings across south Scotland.
The local MSP was speaking during a debate on the subject in the Scottish Parliament last week.
He highlighted a number of buildings locally including the former Interfloor factory in Dumfries and criticised calls for the council to take responsibility for carrying out work on the building and try to reclaim the money from the absent landlord, warning this would likely lead to council becoming owners and council tax payers facing a bill for tens of millions of pounds for an empty factory at a time the council were having to make huge cuts.
Speaking in the debating chamber, Colin Smyth said: “The Parliament’s Economy and Fair Work Committee has just completed its inquiry into town centres, and the challenge of vacant and derelict buildings and land was a common thread that ran throughout the evidence that we heard from across the country.
“That reflects the fact that the problem is increasing: it is not simply a historical legacy of our declining industrial base; there has also been a more recent decline in our town centres.
“The scale of the challenge involved with such sites means that we need a strategic national approach, with Government intervention through agencies such as Scottish Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise to invest in clearing sites to make them suitable for future use.
“On occasion, that occurs at a local level.
“Finlay Carson mentioned the George hotel. I can tell him that the council bought that hotel within a few months of the current administration coming in, after years of the Conservatives doing absolutely nothing—that includes Mr Carson, who was a councillor at the time.
“The council took action by buying the George hotel, but the cost of buying that modest building and turning it into something suitable is enormous, never mind what the cost would be for a site that is the size of the former Interfloor factory in Dumfries.
“Councils need support to ensure that they can actually invest in projects. Where the project involves a site on the scale of that factory, however, I think that we need major Government intervention to clear such sites and make them fit for purpose.”
Colin Smyth continued by mentioning the good work being done by the Midsteeple Quarter.
He said: “On its visit to Dumfries, the Economy and Fair Work Committee met with Midsteeple Quarter, which is a new community benefit company.
“Midsteeple Quarter is taking on the neglect of absent landlords by taking back our High Street, shop by shop, and investing in those properties to deliver the mix of uses that our town needs: not just quality retail space that is suitable and affordable for local businesses, but community space and—crucially—new housing, so that we once again have people living in our town.”