THREE generations ago, Cockenzie High Street bustled.

It housed a Co-op, greengrocers, bakeries, butchers and a fishmonger, all within spitting distance of each other. The street supported a haberdasher, an electrician, a newsagent, sweetie shops, a Post Office, chemist and even a cobbler. A thriving ice cream and fish and chip restaurant competed for entertainment with several churches. Everyone knew everyone and frequent shopping routines created a natural social life that bound the community together.

Things could not be more different today. Although the population has almost quadrupled, there is barely a shop left.

Other high streets in East Lothian have fared better. Haddington supports a busy butcher, baker and delis. North Berwick has an established butcher, fruiterer and fishmonger. Dunbar has several community-run businesses which are social hubs. We all stop at the high streets for the chemist and, if we’re lucky, banking.

East Lothian Courier: Mary ContiniMary Contini

But let’s be frank. Our high streets are struggling. They are besieged by out-of-town supermarkets and online competition. Many businesses have been forced out by high rates, energy costs and falling footfall. Vacant shops are replaced with ‘convenience’ stores. The latest, from a respectable chain, disgracefully offers energy drinks, alcohol, vapes, cigarettes and gambling as soon as you step in the door.

The UK Government is acknowledging the problem is across the UK. It is spending £1 billion on seven Scottish towns to reinvigorate town centres. Unfortunately, none of them are in the east. Here, our tenacious shopkeepers will need support from local government.

Rates could be free for first years of trading; apprentices could be supported by grants offering apprenticeships and skilled career opportunities for our young people. Sustainability grants should be more accessible. And, if the powers that be decide – against public opinion – to charge for parking, surely residents and businesses should get free permits.

And, in the interests of fair competition, supermarket car parks should be forced to charge for parking as well. Funds collected could be siphoned back to support the high street. I’d vote for that.