Dumfries takes on investment company over high street ownership

The National, by Karin Goodwin
27.01.19

A COMMUNITY group in Dumfries planning to buy back its high street due to the number of vacant and abandoned shops has been forced to take emergency action after two of the buildings it hoped to purchase were put up for auction.

The two properties – which form part of the community-led Midsteeple Quarter regeneration project – are owned by Columbia Threadneedle Investments and were put on the market last week “without warning”, according to the community group.

The Local Community Benefit Society, Midsteeple Quarter, was granted money from the Scottish Land Fund to prepare plans and negotiate with the London-based pension fund and had hoped to complete the purchase this year. However it has now been forced to bring forward plans.

Now Midsteeple Quarter has launched a fundraiser – making £4000 in less than 48 hours – and is locked in meetings with potential partners who might support their bid.

The community hopes to revitalise the high street by gradually buying back the abandoned buildings to use for local businesses and social enterprises, housing and a university “innovations hub”.

Chair of Midsteeple Quarter Scott Mackay said: “We have decided to launch a fightback against this cycle of outside property speculation.

“We have the organisation in place to attract public investment to Dumfries that would see these buildings as part of a prosperous future, a future that would see part of our high street held in common ownership by local people.”

Mike Staples, of the Dumfries and Galloway Small Communities Housing Trust, which is backed by the community group, added: “We estimate that the market value of these properties, in their current condition, is very low and achievable for the local community.

“We have support from agencies like the Scottish Land Fund to help the community make a competitive bid for these properties.”

In November, Midsteeple Quarter was granted ownership of the former Bakers Oven building, also on the high street, and work on flats and shop space is to start in 2020.

A Columbia Threadneedle spokesperson said: “We have tried to lease the property for a number of years. However, with the large number of competing vacant properties on the high street and the absence of retailer demand, this has proved unsuccessful. The auction will hopefully result in a sale to a local investor or owner occupier.”