IT was once somewhere where you could happily potter around for an afternoon, locals say.

But now – like many other high streets in Scotland – the centre of Dumbarton is blighted by empty stores and an ever-declining number of shoppers.

A community campaign has been launched to come up with ideas about how to regenerate the town centre. Karon McCreadie, one of the founders of Save Dumbarton High Street, says: "It is a bit deserted and run down. When we asked people what they wanted to see in the High Street, it was butchers, bookshops, stationers – all the wee individual shops that used to be there."

While concern once centred around the "cloning" of high streets with rows of identical shops, the debate is now around how they will survive as retailers come under increasing threat from a slump in spending and competition from the internet.

Michael De Kare-Silver, former managing director of, who is now advising companies on digital strategy, said even retailers with successful online operations were struggling to overcome all of the issues arising from changes in shopping habits.

"The latest statistics over Christmas show [a rise in] the number of people who will go into a store, compare prices on their mobile and then go away and order the stuff online at the cheaper place," he said.

"Instead of the idea of having a shop in every major town, many retailers are now looking at slimming down their retail portfolio – for example, some are saying they need no more than 30 stores to cover the country. "

In 2011, retail expert Mary Portas carried out a review of how to boost UK high streets, and preserve them as places which give the public a sense of "belonging and community".

The UK government subsequently agreed to implement various recommendations from the report, such as making town centre parking more affordable and creating dedicated teams to manage high streets.

In Scotland, an expert group is currently carrying out a review of town centres for the Scottish Government, with a report due to be produced this spring.

Edinburgh-based architect Malcolm Fraser, who is chairing the group, warned there was a tendency to fall into a "trap" of thinking town centres were only about shops.

"There is an inevitability that retail is going to shrink a bit, but it is not going to disappear," he said.

"What is important about town centres is they have a wide and varied offering that is to do with the general amenity of the place, such as having people living there and offices."

Fraser said he was concerned about public institutions such as council and hospital buildings being moved out of town, which reduces accessibility for those without a car, adding: "We would like key public institutions to have to consider the impact on public accessibility when they make decisions about property investment."

Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at Stirling University and a member of the Scottish Government's Town Centre Review group, said local firms could be encouraged to fill the gaps left by big retailers who pull out of the high street.

"I think there is an opportunity there for good local businesses," he said. "It won't be in every place and there won't be anywhere as near as many as we would have seen in the high streets that we have nostalgic views of, but I think there is opportunity for some Scottish town centres to see much more localisation."

Nick Wright, the representative for the Royal Town Planning Institute on the review group, said planning policy could be more "pro-town centre".

He said: "At the moment, there is fairly strong planning policy that says new shops such as supermarkets should go into town centres unless there is good reason not to.

"Why can't that same principle be applied to any new building which would generate footfall in a town centre, like hospitals, big office blocks or sports centres?

"More footfall means more trade for town centre businesses, which can only be a good thing."