It was Scotland's first new town, one of five created to help remedy post-war overcrowding in major cities including Glasgow.

Now, more than 75 years after East Kilbride welcomed its first delighted residents a "radical" masterplan to redevelop its rundown centre has been unveiled.

Those behind the project say it will "redefine" East Kilbride's function as a town, serving the needs of its own population first and shifting the focus away from retail.

The Herald:

More than a third of the existing shopping centre will be demolished with retail reduced by 42% to make way for hundreds of new homes, a hotel, shops and a civic space in a project sector insiders estimate could top £100million.

"I would like to think it would restore some civic pride," said Mark Hewitt, director of Scoop Assett Management, which was brought in to come up with a plan to rejuvenate the town after centre owners Sapphire went into administration last year.

READ MORE: East Kilbride: The story of Scotland's first new town

"Clearly I'm not local," said the London-based project leader,"and maybe because of that I've done a bit more homework than I might otherwise have done in terms of looking into the history of the town.

"It's been quite interesting looking at the old news clips to see how passionate and proud people were of the town centre in those first 20-30 years of the new town.

The Herald:

"Walking around it today it's quite difficult to identify that same passion," he said.

The original part of the town centre development opened in 1959, with Prince's Square following in 1962 and The Plaza starting in 1971. The refurbishment of Prince's Mall and Prince's Square followed.

The shopping centre covers around 1.40million square feet, which at its time was the largest in Europe , with more than 150 shops, restaurants, a cinema and an ice rink.

The Herald:

The vast majority of that space is retail and it currently has around 75 vacant units.

Like others through the pandemic it lost a number of large tenants such as Debenhams.

READ MORE: Glasgow's recovery boss pledges change will finally  happen for city centre

"East Kilbride for many years performed a sub-regional function in that it drew on a much wider catchment than its immediate population," said Mr Hewitt.

"As time went on and Glasgow strengthened with Braehead and then Silverburn, its ability to compete at that sub-regional level has got less and less.

The Herald: East Kilbride

"Twenty years ago when Silverburn was being proposed the answer from East Kilbride was, well let's build more space and make itself an even bigger shopping centre to take on that competition, which is entirely understandable at the time but of course with the benefit of hindsight, all that has done is exacerbate the problem.

"We are redefining East Kilbride's function as a town," added Mr Hewitt."It needs to refocus to serve its own population first and foremost.

The Herald:

"Effectively the shopping centre here is the town centre, it covers such a large expanse."

At the heart of the private and public-funded development will be a new 40,000 sq ft supermarket at the Olympia Mall entrance. A budget hotel will replace the ageing entrance area near the bus station at Princes Mall and negotiations are at an advanced stage with operators for both.

The Herald:

Centre West will be demolished to create a new neighbourhood of up to 400 homes in the heart of the town in an "open green format".

The ice rink, PureGym and Odeon cinema will remain while the area between Plaza and Olympia will be redeveloped as a new civic square with the public asked to decide what they would like it to be used for.

Joe Fagan, leader of South Lanarkshire Council, who grew up in the town, said he had been pushing for change for a number of years and was delighted it was finally happening.

He said:  “East Kilbride town centre faces a choice of two futures – radical change or radical decline.

“There’s no future for East Kilbride in having the biggest indoor shopping centre in Europe when half a million square feet is vacant.

"Bluntly, parts of the town centre need to be flattened so that something new can emerge.

“It has been painful watching the town centre decline and previous attempts to turn it around fail.
Now, for the first time in years, it feels like we have an opportunity to reinvent East Kilbride.

"It’s time to get back to our founding New Town principles and create an open, community-focused town centre.”

The masterplan has a number of green aspirations, including making cars less dominant and delivering more space and access points for pedestrians and public transport connections.

READ MORE: The changing face of Scotland's new towns 

A public consultation will get under way today, lasting until the end of the month. Project leaders said there is the ability to push ahead fairly quickly with planning applications for individuals elements of the project.

"It's time to be radical," said Mr Hewitt.

"If you've got a nicer place to shop and more balanced town centre, then some of those people who are going to Silverburn might be attracted to start shopping local again.

"With that comes more jobs and more Gross Value Added (GVA) and so on. 

"I'm not saying this is going to fix all the woes of the world but I think if people can see that someone is taking an interest, they have a vision and things start to happen sooner rather than later, all of that ought to start building confidence."

The Herald:

The masterplan will generate employment through short-term construction jobs and longer-term regeneration through town centre employment in retail and leisure, business rates, as well as more "local spend."

Anthony Hubbert, of Threesixty Architects, said: "We need to transform the shopping centre from an island in the middle of East Kilbride into the heart of the town by creating a permeable, safe and accessible environment.”

Scoop AM has also been involved in the redevelopment of Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness and Stirling's Thistle Centre.

The East Kilbride project mirrors plans for St Enoch Centre and Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow, which are to be demolished over the next ten years to create more homes in the city centre and reduce the dominance of retail.