The events of 2020 have seen upheaval in communities everywhere. Across the UK, businesses have faced huge challenges and everyday life has been disrupted in ways we could never have imagined.
As the country continues to deal with the pandemic, we felt it was important to provide an update on what EK, East Kilbride has been doing to meet the challenges of coronavirus and address some of the questions that we are being asked about our response to the pandemic and our plans for the town centre moving forward.
How is the centre faring during the pandemic?
There is no doubt it has been a very difficult time for the retail and hospitality industries. The situation remains very challenging as the latest announcement from the Scottish government shows only too clearly.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic we have worked hard to support our retailers and make the malls safe and secure for everyone visiting the centre. We have followed all government advice and introduced a number of measures including a one way system, increased cleaning regime and other social distancing guidelines.
With regards the centre toilets, there are additional hygiene measures - such as appropriate social distancing and staffing levels - that we need to consider. At the moment we have three toilets open in Princes Square, Plaza and the Centre West food court, however, we are looking closely at the situation and hope to have more facilities operating in the coming weeks.
The Scottish government has stated that wearing face coverings in shopping centres is mandatory and we are pleased that the vast majority of our visitors have been following the rules. Although enforcement lies in the hands of the police, our security team will respectfully ask anyone who is not wearing a face covering to do so if they are able.
We appreciate it takes time to get used to the changes, which are in place to protect those visiting or working in the centre, and we would like to thank everyone for following the guidelines and for their patience and understanding.
What is the situation with parking at the centre?
During the early stage of the coronavirus pandemic we raised the barriers and waived parking charges in all our car parks. We are continuing to offer free parking at the centre whilst we monitor car park usage.
We understand that parking charges can be a contentious issue but it is important to note why charges are in place. Simply put, EK is not the same as Braehead or Silverburn. They are purpose-built, out-of-town shopping centres, whilst EK is a town centre, surrounded by public transport links, residential areas and offices.
Charging is the only way to manage car park usage, as can be seen in town centres across Scotland. If there was no charge, the centre would quickly fill with cars from surrounding businesses and commuters, with very limited space for those looking to visit the centre. We have always sought to keep our charges as low as possible and we have not increased them since 2013.
As part of our response to the coronavirus situation we are currently looking at the way we charge for parking and hope to be able to provide an update on that soon.
There are lots of shops closing across the country, why is this happening and how will this affect EK?
The retail and leisure industries have faced very difficult conditions for quite some time however, the coronavirus pandemic has increased the pressure further.
EK is not immune to this situation and, like every other retail destination, we have experienced some closures as a number of nationwide retail and leisure chains have either ceased trading or severely reduced operations.
In each instance we have worked closely with retailers to try and keep them at EK, East Kilbride, however, the challenges faced are often too great to overcome and simply out with the control of the centre. Some comments on social media have suggested rent levels are a factor, however, it is important to note that this is very rarely a key consideration, with rental incomes in general declining across the country.
Despite these difficult conditions, the centre owners have been working to support existing retailers and attract new operators to the centre. We will shortly welcome Tony Macaroni to The Hub with David Urquhart Travel and a number of other independent operators due to open their doors in the coming weeks.
What is the situation at M&S and Sainsbury’s?
M&S has been an important and well-loved store within EK for many years, with this depth of feeling underlined in a wide ranging community campaign following the store’s initial announcement in 2018.
We understand this only too well and fully appreciate that we also have a responsibility to the people of East Kilbride to provide the best services we can. We know the current situation with M&S is frustrating for shoppers, however, we have made it clear to the retailer that we fully expect them to honour the terms of their lease and continue to operate in the centre, offering a full service to the EK community.
The recent statement from Sainsbury’s is extremely disappointing and clearly concerning for employees at the EK, East Kilbride store. We have been in regular contact with the retailer but we had not been made aware of this announcement and are continuing to seek clarification on the situation.
What is the long term outlook for EK, East Kilbride?
We believe the town centre has a very positive future ahead, although it is clear we will need to continue to adapt to ensure that we meet the challenges head on.
Simply put the retail and leisure industries are changing shape, with different demands and different ways of shopping having a profound effect on high streets and shopping centres across the UK.
We understand this and have been working on plans to make the town centre more relevant to the people of East Kilbride moving forward. As part of our continuing efforts to improve retail and leisure facilities we are looking at opportunities to bring in different types of outlets, including a number of independent retail and restaurant operators.
We take our position as the town centre very seriously and in tandem with our push to improve the retail environment we are exploring ways to build on our long standing community programme and make EK, East Kilbride even more community focused.
As part of this, the centre has been working closely with South Lanarkshire Council on a number of larger civic projects. A new nursery will open in the coming months and we are working on a new community campus within the town centre that will provide space and resources for groups and organisations operating within EK.
Our Community Fund will also continue to provide funding for community groups every quarter and we have teamed up with the Scotland Loves Local campaign to bring more resources to our community programme.
There is no denying that It will take time and a lot of hard work to deliver our plans but we firmly believe that if everyone with an interest in the town centre comes together, EK, East Kilbride can look forward to a bright future.
We know how important it is to keep our visitors, retailers and the wider EK community informed as our plans develop and with this in mind we will look to provide additional updates as we move forward.
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