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South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has called on the Scottish Government to provide financial backing to plans by a community group to take ownership of empty properties in Dumfries High Street to develop the buildings for housing and business space.

The local MSP made the call in the Scottish Parliament when he questioned Kevin Stewart, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning on the issue of the regeneration of Dumfries town centre.

Colin Smyth urged the Minister to make the Midsteeple Quarter Project a Scottish Government pilot scheme. At present, apart from Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Town Centre Living Fund, there are few grants available to the project to fund the purchase of empty properties. With town centres across Scotland suffering from a growing number of empty properties, Colin Smyth believes the Midsteeple Quarter Project could act as an example to the rest of Scotland. But it needs Government funding to make it happen.

Speaking in Parliament Colin Smyth questioned Kevin Stewart and said, “I am aware that the minister has met the Midsteeple Quarter project in Dumfries. Its aim is to take ownership of and refurbish disused buildings to create enterprise space and housing above shops. Does the minister agree that such a project is entirely the type of community-led fightback against the decline of our town centres that the Government should support? Will he consider making the project a pilot scheme that is backed by Government investment, so that the Midsteeple Quarter has the funds to buy back the properties?”

Commenting after the exchange Colin Smyth said, “Dumfries, like market towns across Scotland, has suffered due to online shopping and the rise of out of town developments. The Midsteeple Project totally understands that you cannot go back. You need to find a new vision for our town centres. Their proposals to breathe new life into Dumfries are exciting because they are community led. Too often in the past people expect councils to wave a magic wand despite them having to make huge savings. But the biggest challenge the Midsteeple Quarter Project have is finding the funding to buy the properties. The Government could help with this by making the project a pilot scheme and providing the funding as there could be lessons for towns in the rest of Scotland.”

Blistering Fast Broadband, a step closer at The Crichton

A mothballed fibre broadband network could soon go live in Dumfries after the intervention of SNP MSP Joan McAlpine.
The state-of-the-art system would turn The Crichton Estate into a “gigabit campus” and attract more jobs and investment to the area.
Ms McAlpine called a meeting at the Scottish Parliament between Kate Forbes MSP, Minister for the Digital Economy, The Crichton Trust and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE).  SSE own the lease over the faster fibre network which was installed in 2005 but never lit up.
Ms McAlpine said she was very positive about the progress made at the meeting which she arranged after an approach from Gwilym Gibbons, the new CEO of the Crichton Trust – the charitable organisation which runs the 85-acre, business, leisure and academic campus in Dumfries. 
Ms Forbes told the meeting that switching on the system would be an exciting development for the whole of Scotland as well as Dumfries and Galloway.
Mr Gibbons explained that every building at Crichton was connected to the fibre network and he outlined his belief the Trust taking control over the network would help attract new business tenants who preferred to pay for broadband as part of a single package with their utility bills. 
SSE heads Eddie Duffy and Steve Wood said they wanted to help the area and were willing to enter into talks to get the system up and running.
Ms McAlpine, the South Scotland MSP, said:
“This was an extremely positive meeting. 
“I was impressed with SSE’s candour.  They have commercial interests but they made it apparent that they will help the Trust realise its ambitions. 
“The Trust has big plans for Crichton.  Now, with the help of SSE, it looks as though they will be able to take the next step in developing the campus and making it an even more attractive place to invest.
“It comes at the perfect time, as the Scottish Government is really focussed on the South, with plans for a new dedicated economic development agency.
“I was grateful to the Minister for lending her support.  She was clearly very excited by Gwilym’s vision of a gigabit campus.”
Giving her thoughts on the meeting, the Minister for the Digital Economy said:
“I thank Joan McAlpine for inviting me to the meeting to hear first-hand the ambitious vision she has for Dumfries and Galloway. The Crichton Campus already plays a critical role in the local economy and I support Joan McAlpine’s desire to see it going even further in opening up the digital potential of the south of Scotland.”
As part of the Atlas Project, a broadband infrastructure scheme funded by the EU, faster fibre-optic technology was installed in every building on the Crichton Estate in 2005. 
However, the fibre broadband was never connected.  Atlas Connect Limited, a company that was setup and wholly owned by Scottish Enterprise to carry out the work, was subsequently sold to SSE in 2010. 
SSE currently owns the lease to the Estate’s comms cabinet but the company has not lit up the line because in the past it was not considered commercially viable.  Other business parks that benefitted from Atlas have since prospered.
SSE will review the legal implications of surrendering their lease to the Crichton Trust.  This process should take a matter of weeks.  The ultimate aim is for the Trust to have full control over the fibre broadband connection at the Estate.  Ms McAlpine and Ms Forbes have emphasised that they will give what support they can to help smooth the transition.

Services getting back on track from Stranraer

South Scotland Labour MSP Colin Smyth has welcomed the return of train services from Stranraer Train Station.
An announcement was made by Scot Rail last week that saw services resuming from Stranraer Train Station on November 1st.
Colin Smyth MSP said, “It is extremely welcome that we see a return of rail services from Stranraer and the pressure being put on rail bosses has paid off. The loss of rail services has left Stranraer and Wigtownshire cut off from the rail network. While the return of a limited service on the route it welcome it is essential that Scot Rail and Network Rail continue to keep all stakeholders and Stranraer passengers up to date with future progress. The problems at Ayr Train Station with the hotel building have not gone away. It's important to ensure that the Ayr Station Hotel Action Group are fully involved in future decisions and that any impact or change to services are clearly communicated to Stranraer passengers.”  

New Website launched to help businesses prepare for BREXIT

Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell has launched a new dedicated online domain and a specially designed Brexit self-assessment tool ahead of Brexit.

The site Prepare for Brexit is now live and home to a self-assessment tool which will help businesses identify how Brexit might affect them, providing bespoke recommendations for action to help their planning activities. It will also be home to the Brexit toolkit, 15-point checklist, news, articles, access to experts and event listings. 

Scottish Rural Parliament Opens Booking for Day Delegates Ahead of Arrival in Stranraer

The Scottish Rural Parliament has opened a series of day delegate booking options for people who want to participate in part, but not all, of the event. 

The Rural Parliament takes place in Stranraer from 14-16 November.  It is a three day participatory democracy event providing an opportunity for rural communities, businesses and organisations to share their ideas and opinions about a range of rural issues.

People who want to participate in selected aspects of the Rural Parliament can now book specifically onto the Rural Parliament visits on Wednesday 14th November:

The Wednesday fringe, film and exhibition:

And the Friday fringe programme on 16th November:

Emma Cooper, Chief Executive of Scottish Rural Action, the organisation that runs the Scottish Rural Parliament, said:

“It’s extremely important that the Scottish Rural Parliament is fully accessible and inclusive to everyone from rural Scotland who wants to attend. We anticipate our day booking options to be of particular interest to people in south west Scotland. 

“The Rural Parliament theme ‘Taking Action’ has been developed to empower rural Scotland in the face of unprecedented constitutional, structural and funding changes, so we very much hope that a broad range of south west Scotland’s community groups join us to share knowledge and experience of taking action to empower rural areas.” 

Speakers at the Scottish Rural Parliament will include Michael Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Mairi Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Colin Smyth MSP, Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Connectivity and Transport, Edward Mountain MSP, Scottish Conservative Spokesperson for Rural Affairs, Robin McAlpine, Director of the Common Weal think tank and journalist and commentator Ruth Wishart.

For more information and details of the programme visit

Booking for the full Scottish Rural Parliament programme remains open until 10th November or until all places are allocated.