A new report has lifted the lid on Paisley’s retail misery ... by revealing the town has more empty shops than anywhere else in Scotland.
The steady decline of the High Street means that more than a quarter of all Paisley shops now have their shutters down.
Almost 30 per cent of stores are lying empty – worse than any other town or city across the country.
And the vacancy rate is FIVE TIMES higher than towns such as Irvine and Livingston.
However, last night, business leaders insisted there are signs that Paisley’s retail scene is turning the corner – including the opening of the new Discount UK and Poundworld stores on the former Littlewoods site.
Tom Johnston, president of Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “There’s no denying it’s a tough situation in Paisley but there is no town in the country which faces the same challenges, with Silverburn, Braehead and Glasgow city centre just a few miles away in each direction.
“Paisley also has the wrong type of premises because businesses are looking for large spaces and that’s generally not what is on offer here.
“However, shops have opened in the town centre over the past six to nine months and Poundworld coming to town was the biggest thing that has happened to the retail sector here in many years.
“After all the hard work to fill that vacant store, I was delighted to see the doors open again and business has been great too, which is another positive.
“Slowly but surely, more and more shops are coming to town.”
The ‘empty shops league table’ was compiled by property consultants GVA as part of their latest national retail review.
With a vacancy rate of 29 per cent, Paisley is lagging well behind neighbouring Glasgow, where 19 per cent of shops are lying empty, and Greenock, where the rate is just eight per cent.
Mr Johnston believes closer ties are needed between shopkeepers and council chiefs to boost footfall in Paisley town centre.
He added: “With the internet taking in billions of pounds that used to be spent in town centres, it’s up to everyone to do what they can to keep attracting shoppers into town.
“Free parking is very important, even if it’s just at weekends and from around 4pm on weekdays to allow people to shop after work without worrying about getting a ticket.
“Opening hours need to be more uniform too so that shoppers know what will be open when they come into town, instead of finding half of the stores closed.
“Last year, we had 30,000 visitors in town for the Christmas lights switch-on and the fireworks display but some cafés had their doors closed, which defeats the whole point, so everyone has to do more to work together for the benefit of the town.”
Paul Rounce, of GVA, said close working partnerships between the public and private sectors are vital if town centres such as Paisley are to be successful.
He added: “Each town must be looked at individually as the issues, problems and solutions for a particular town centre will never be directly replicated.”
Meanwhile, Renfrewshire Council Leader Mark Macmillan stressed that the regeneration of Paisley town centre is a “key priority.”
He said: “In recent months, we have seen number of practical measures put in place to boost business and jobs.
“It’s worth pointing out that the 29 per cent retail vacancy rate is out of date. Last month, with council support, a big Discount UK store opened on the site of the former Littlewoods store, bringing 60 jobs and reviving a large and prominent retail space on the High Street.
“The council has reinstated Paisley’s fireworks display and Christmas lights switch-on as two separate events, which will bri ng tens of thousands of shoppers and visitors to Paisley on November 3 and November 10. We have also just brought in free Saturday parking in Paisley town centre.
“In addition, the University of the West of Scotland has completed a £13.2million investment in accommodation for 336 students in the heart of the town centre.
“Along with a wide-ranging programme to preserve Paisley’s outstanding architectural heritage, the council is calling on commercial property owners to meet their responsibilities on repair and maintenance of their properties for the benefit of all who are trying to boost the appeal of Paisley.
“Paisley also hosts The Spree – an arts festival of national standing – and, next year, the town hosts the Royal National Mòd, bringing thousands more visitors.
“Overall, we know there is still a lot of work to do but there are a lot of positive things happening in Paisley town centre.”