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Three-point blueprint to save struggling town centres published

February 3 2021

Three-point blueprint to save struggling town centres published

An independent review group has published three key recommendations to arrest the decline of town centres.

Chaired by Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at the University of Stirling, A New Future for Scotland's Town Centres articulates the steps necessary to make secondary urban centres more attractive places to live, work and play.

Chief among these is for towns and town centres to be prioritised in national planning with a requirement for development plans to be authored with a greater focus on measurement and data.

The report also recommends a review of tax rates as well as the introduction of a digital tax and a levy on out of town car parking to incentivise changes in behaviour. A moratorium on further out-of-town development is also supported.

Finally, the review calls for investment in town centre living, digital skills and greater support for small businesses. The group also urge a redoubling of efforts to tackle climate change through retrofitting of existing buildings, new green space and active travel routes.

 Sparks said: “The current narrative is too often about the decline or death of the town centre. This is not the case in many of our towns but we can do more and better for all towns. Decline is not inevitable.”

Phil Prentice, chief officer of Scotland's Towns Partnership added: “We are beginning to see the unfortunate economic casualties of Covid-19. The crisis has undoubtedly accelerated the need for us to reimagine how we best use our town centres to sustain jobs, build community wealth, embrace digital opportunities, tackle climate change and so much more. This work must happen at pace.

“The pandemic has led to everyone living more of their lives locally. By embracing the spirit of localism which has been so important to the last year and acting on the review group’s recommendations, we can build a stronger future which has towns at its heart."

Projects such as the Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries are touted as exemplars for realising this future where towns condense around their historic cores.


#1 Posted by BiP on 3 Feb 2021 at 18:20 PM
During the times of Covid restrictions the most popular places became natural environments and parks, can this be taken as a cue and replicated in town centers themselves? Such a move has a high probability of attracting people.
Nairn's Bairn
#2 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 4 Feb 2021 at 09:20 AM
I read this, and while it's well-intentioned (who doesn't agree that town centres are important?), it's like the local councillor pounding the meeting table and saying "something must be done!"

Yes indeed, something must be done. But what? Conversion of town centre upper storeys from empty spaces back to flats is a key component, and this report rightly recommends focussing on this.

Planning authorities have helped with converting upper storeys back to flats by doing away with town centre parking requirements and being generally supportive, which is great.

BUT – Building Standards have now set things back by introducing a new Standard (in force March 2021) requiring all new flats, including conversions, to be fitted with sprinkler systems. Splendid – but this will deter most conversions back to flats. Practicalities and costs (never mind the installation, the consultants alone are prohibitive for a single flat) will stop the conversion before it gets started.

This being the case, it is going to take some serious tax/rates carrots or sticks to effectively force building owners to do something with all those upper storeys. So Scottish Government, if you’re serious, Something Must Be Done!

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