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Malcolm Fraser to lead review of town centres

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September 10 2012

Malcolm Fraser to lead review of town centres
Malcolm Fraser has been named by the Scottish Government as chair of a newly launched national review of town centres, tasked with formulating an action plan to halt and reverse the decline of secondary urban centres.

The town centre hit squad has been assembled in the widespread belief that a similar initiative in England, the Mary Portas review, was too focussed on retail and thus not wide ranging enough.

With some 20,000 commercial properties currently lying empty in Scotland a primary task of the group will be to seek ways of amending planning and competition regulations; as well as changing the law on empty properties, rents and rates.

Speaking to Urban Realm Fraser said: “Traditional nucleated communities are the places that best deliver wealth and well-being,” adding: “This isn’t about specific towns; this is an attempt to create general conditions to allow town centres to flourish. Things like leaseholds, rates and tax as well as arts and festivals."

Citing an example of the type of  challenge the group must wrestle with Fraser noted: “An empty property above a shop in Scotland is a far harder property to sell than in England. The person who owns a shop and the building above it can’t sell the upstairs, you need to control the roof and access, so they will always look to lease it.

“In England you can lease for up to 150 years but in Scotland there is a legal limit of 20 years. That means the property is worth nothing and so it’s not worth doing up. With a simple change in the law you would suddenly have tens of thousands of properties coming back on the market - it would be a huge re-emphasis on the centre of towns.”

Referring to a pet bugbear, discrepancies in the application of VAT rates, Fraser added: “The government is interested in the issues of tax and very supportive of a change to VAT because if you do up a property in the centre of town you’re charged 20% but if you build a diddy-box on a greenfield site you pay zero.”

Scottish Government ministers have intimated that they will be ‘sympathetic’ to the reviews findings but haven’t committed to enacting any recommendations before those have been published.

The review will kick off with a symposium on 25-26 September incorporating a panel of experts from organisations including Ernst and Young, the Association of Town Centre Managers, Scottish Retail Consortium, Creative Scotland, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Stirling University and Federation of Small Businesses.

7 Comments

Mac
#1 Posted by Mac on 10 Sep 2012 at 14:26 PM
Any chance of starting with Oban?
Neil S
#2 Posted by Neil S on 10 Sep 2012 at 16:09 PM
The Scottish Government has control over rates, but no control over VAT, so I hope Malcolm puts the case for powers being repatriated to Scotland.
Dave
#3 Posted by Dave on 10 Sep 2012 at 16:21 PM
Not before time - after the focus on the 6 cities - and rural areas... will the Town Centre Regeneration Fund be reinvented?
ha
#4 Posted by ha on 10 Sep 2012 at 16:42 PM
perfect person for the task. I Hope it leads to achieve something good.
Mac, is by any chance your photo from the house in Albert Road, Falkirk, by StudioKAP?
Ray Davis
#5 Posted by Ray Davis on 10 Sep 2012 at 16:46 PM
At long last hopefully the Scottish Government will listen to this newly launched national review of town centeres group. Our town centres need to fight back against the large out of town supermarkets. I was on a recent visit to Vancouver and the number of successful district centres with small independent retailers is a real lesson for us They have controlled the expansion of large retail centres and it works
Good luck to the group well overdue
Egbert
#6 Posted by Egbert on 11 Sep 2012 at 09:49 AM
Great news, and a great choice to lead it. First step would be to do something about the continued proliferation of out-of town retail - from the three shiny leeches sucking greater Glasgow dry to the rash of massive supermarkets sneaking through planning in west Edinburgh, and popping up on the edges of just about every other town.
Andy
#7 Posted by Andy on 11 Sep 2012 at 10:10 AM
Lest we forget in the current fray of activity.
+ Concerning VAT....George Osborne in an attempt he says ...to stop the Nouveaux Riche from adding swimming Pools to their newly acquired "at knock down" rates country piles.
Has put VAT on all work to Listed Buildings and this single act has put many listed buildings and those requiring listing into a cycle of decay that they shall likely not survive.
And now ...the extensions of exemptions to planning process....Why it all suggests that a layer of local accountable democracy that can affect these decisions and over rule them is missing. I hope that having an overseer will help the cycle of decline and allow for raw local stats and data and issues to be amplified.

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