Report outlines “practical ideas for re-energising” town centres
An independent review of town centres, chaired by leading architect Malcolm Fraser, advocates a ‘town centre first’ principle which encourages public bodies to consider how they can support these areas before considering development elsewhere.
The report also said work should be carried out with housing providers to bring empty town centre properties back into use as affordable housing and that public bodies should consider the impact of proposals to relocate services.
Broadening the appeal of town centres with a mix of leisure, public facilities and homes would also help, according to the review.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is determined to ensure town centres are vibrant places where both local people and visitors want to spend their time and money.
She added: “They should be accessible places which invite business start-ups and inspire innovative ideas from all walks of the community. The work of this independent review will play a crucial role in the regeneration of high streets across Scotland.
“We recognise the national review group’s passion for finding a future for our town centres and welcome their succinct and insightful review which outlines practical ideas for re-energising these areas.
“Town centres are the lifeblood of our communities, functioning as places of social interaction and enterprise. By diversifying our high streets we will make them even better places to live, work and socialise.
“I look forward to the next phase of the work getting underway, with the first step being a government action plan in the autumn which will take forward the expert group’s recommendation.”
Fraser said the review offers the Scottish Government, and the people of Scotland, a range of measures to bring investment and footfall into the heart of our communities.
“Town centres offer a rich mix of live, work and play and we want to enhance that bustle and diversity: more people living there, encouragement for communities, businesses and local authorities and supportive planning and digital initiatives,” he said.
“There’s wide agreement on the need for action and optimism that the changes proposed can help foster a renewed sense of community and enterprise.”
The review consisted of an independent panel of advisors from a range of organisations including a community representative, Creative Scotland, the Association of Town Centre Management, Ernst and Young, GVA, Architecture Design Scotland, Stirling University, Scottish Local Authorities Economic Development Group and Federation of Small Business.
Chris Wade, chief executive of Action for Market Towns, said “Compared to the Portas Review in England, it is fascinating to see the emphasis in this Scottish review on the broader role of town centres for leisure, business start-up and community use alongside retail.
“The report extends the principle of putting town-centres-first to include public services as well as retail investments. We will be working with our partners at the Scotland’s Towns Partnership to positively influence and support the Government’s response beginning with our joint town benchmarking work to help communities to understand the wider role and importance of their town centres and plan for the future.”
Commenting on the publication Andy Willox, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scottish policy convenor, added: “The Fraser report makes a number of useful contributions to the debate about the future of the Scottish high street and we are delighted that this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.
“For years, the FSB has been making the case for mixed-use town centres and we hope the report will act as a catalyst for the local and central government action needed to make this happen. High streets might be associated with small enterprise, but independent shops need a hand to turn around many of our town centres. Six in ten of our members believe that their local high street is performing poorly. We need our town centres to have more firms in more sectors, alongside public sector employers and residents. But this means they must become an attractive, cost effective location to do business.
“While this report sets out some good ideas which are worth pursuing, critical issues to businesses and employers such as parking, rents and public security aren’t addressed. Similarly, when we see other parts of government taking decisions which threaten town centre viability – such as the decision to close local courts – it remains to be seen how this report will make public bodies consider the wider economic impact of their decisions.”