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Hundreds give view on town future

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By Fiona Reid
Dumfries and West
Hundreds give view on town future

A SURVEY focused on the future of Dumfries Town Centre has sparked a strong response.

And Matt Baker from The Stove says the fact that more than 700 people have taken part in under a week demonstrates an underlying passion for the town.
Hailing the response to the Midsteeple Quarter public consultation, Matt said: “The idea of the survey was to give people who weren’t able to come into the event we did at Baker’s Oven a chance to get involved and show their support.
“We’re up to over 700 responses, which is just extraordinary.”
Matt added: “In our wildest dreams we were thinking we might get a couple of hundred if we were lucky, but it’s gone a bit mad.”
The two-day Chapter One event at the former Baker’s Oven in the High Street last month kick-started a bid to engage the public and explore alternative options for Dumfries town centre and its many empty properties.
The survey asks whether people would be interested in living in the town centre, what kind of housing they might want to see, the look and feel of the town centre, and uses for the town in enterprise and education — not just retail.
And Matt said: “What we’re getting is that people really care about the town, because what happens in the town centre really is an indicator for the way people feel about the town generally.”
He says people care about the impression the town gives, and have memories of ‘what a busy, bustling vibrant place it was’.
And while the council have a role to play in regeneration, Matt says the artists collective can have an impact.
The initiative is already gaining national interest, with Scottish Minister for Housing and Local Government Kevin Stewart interested in visiting in the new year, and the team spoke at Scotland’s Towns Partnership recent conference in Kirkcaldy.
Matt notes new Right to Buy legislation due which could allow community organisations to express an interest in private properties which are not being fully used — potentially taking them over.
And he says discussions are underway with Baker’s Oven owners the council about transferring it to a community company.
Urging more people to participate in the survey, Matt said: “We’re wanting to build a business case for what we’re proposing in the Midsteeple Quarter and looking to see what people are going to support — particularly around the Baker’s Oven in the first instance as that part of it will probably go quicker than the big picture.
“We’re looking to do that first.”

CROSS-party political backing has been added to The Dumfries Pledge — as people are invited to support the town centre.
Artists’ collective The Stove says politicians of all colours are joining the public in signing their commitment, with more than 200 signatures now collected.
Signing up on a visit to The Stove, SNP MSP Joan McAlpine said: “I was delighted to sign up to The Stove’s ‘Dumfries Pledge’ to bring social and economic activity back to the town centre by developing what is being called The Midsteeple Quarter.”
She added: “The project is at an early stage, but The Stove has already begun consulting with the public.
“If the project attracts the necessary support and investment, the vision arising from this stage of engagement will be piloted in an initial overhaul of The Bakers Oven building which the community is looking to acquire via asset transfer.”
Matt Baker from The Stove says the team are grateful for Ms McAlpine’s support, and backing from Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell and Labour MSP Colin Smyth.
The Pledge can still be signed in The Stove in Dumfries High Street, but there is also an option in the online survey.
Matt said: “Even if we’ve got a third of that 700 who’ve signed up to that, it’s pushing 500 on The Pledge which is a pretty wonderful thing.”

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