Scots urban areas can play role in driving regeneration

Kirkcaldy will host Scotlands Towns Conference in November. Picture: Jerzy Morkis
Kirkcaldy will host Scotlands Towns Conference in November. Picture: Jerzy Morkis
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In partnership with Scotland’s Town’s Partnership

Take a moment to think about where most people live in Scotland, and perhaps the big cities spring to mind. In fact, Scotland is a nation of towns. Seven in ten of us live in a town or village. From Lerwick to Lockerbie, our towns are incredibly diverse, each with its own unique identity, history, and local economy.

This demographic and geographic reality means the health and success of our towns is crucial to sustainable development and social wellbeing in Scotland as a whole.

Towns and neighbourhoods matter to the transformation of modern economies, holding enormous potential value, and blending local and global opportunities.

At the same time, our towns face great challenges. Long-term economic, social and technological forces contribute to the decentralisation of town centres, and act to stall their contribution to Scotland’s economy and society.

These issues are recognised and addressed in Scottish Government policy, in particular through the Town Centre Action Plan, launched in 2013, and the Town Centre First Principle, which encourages the development and regeneration of town centres across the country.

Also set up in 2013, the “go to” body for all those passionate about towns is Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP).

The agency amplifies the voice of towns in national conversations; acts as a central resource point for knowledge and research; provides training and sharing of expertise among practitioners; works with communities and partners across sectors; and holds annual gatherings to discuss pressing issues.

The Scotland’s Towns website also hosts innovative tools for practitioners, including the Understanding Scottish Places data comparator, the Place Standard, and the Town Toolkit.

Since the launch of STP and the Town Centre Action Plan, positive steps have been taken to address the challenges facing towns. This was recognised by global town leaders at the first ever World Towns Leadership Summit, held in Edinburgh this summer.

Reflecting on this global gathering, Leigh Sparks, chair of STP and professor of retail studies at Stirling University, said: “We cannot expect radical transformation in the short time since 2013. But where Scotland is distinct is in having a coherent, aligned and formally recognised national plan for how to address the challenges facing towns, by placing community at the heart of the process.”

All those who want to see Scotland’s towns flourish were encouraged by Sparks to put their hands to the tiller.

For those who want to support the success of towns, STP has a packed agenda for the autumn. Here are some ways that you can get involved in the national conversation:

Keep it Local – Scotland’s Towns Week, 7-13 November

Towns will be holding events, meetings and campaigning activity to raise awareness on the importance of our town centres and urban districts.

Community organisations, business improvement districts, councils and other organisations will be encouraging you to make the most of your town, participate in cultural events, and to shop local.

Last year about 150 town representatives and MSPs launch Scotland’s Towns Week, with events ranging from Christmas light switch-ons, markets, ceilidhs, a cycling competition, and a national “shop local” poster campaign in train stations.

With over 50 events expected to take place across the country this year, Scotland’s Towns Week is a chance to raise the profile of towns across Scotland and their role in our prosperity and wellbeing. And there is still time to organise events for the week.

www.scotlandstowns.org/scotlands-towns-week

Scotland’s Towns Conference, 9 November, Kirkcaldy

The flagship annual gathering for all practitioners and organisations working on towns and urban districts takes place on 9 November in the Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy.

Among the broad range of issues facing towns, themes to be addressed include how towns can deliver inclusive economic growth through partnership and innovation.

With uneven growth and inequities in the jobs market having been exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, unlocking the potential of towns to provide economic opportunities and promote wellbeing is now a first order question in Scotland and internationally.

Given the diversity of Scotland’s towns, discussions will likely focus on how communities can be supported and empowered to create strategies tailored to the local circumstances of their town.

Chaired by journalist Lesley Riddoch, conference speakers include urban designer Kelvin Campbell, Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart and key figures from local authorities, business improvement districts, non-profit bodies, community groups and the private sector.

The 200 delegates will also attend “case study” workshops exploring different components of how towns can generate inclusive growth, such as digital strategies, innovative planning, town centre living and creative places.

Local government minister Kevin Stewart underlined the significance of this year’s conference. “By taking the conference into the community, STP is again ensuring people are at the centre of the decision making that can lead to change,” he said.

www.scotlandstowns.org/scotlands-towns-conference

FutureTown Design Competition, entries open until 22 October

STP is inviting people to imagine what their town could look like, and then to note it down. The competition is open to anyone who has an idea for their town centre, and encourages people to think of changes that are both innovative and build on the assets of the town.

This could be a new use for a vacant space, a way to encourage sport and exercise, or a change to the visual look, infrastructure, or accessibility of the town.

Or it could be practical changes to your town centre which could improve environmental quality, promote tourism, increase energy efficiency, enable digital connectivity and provide opportunities and community wellbeing.

This year’s competition was launched by STP with William Lippe Architects, winner of the 2015 competition. Its entry proposed to increase the social use of Inverurie town centre by recreating the historic town square.

All entries shortlisted for 2016 will be featured at Scotland’s Towns Conference, on STP web and digital channels, and via The Scotsman, the media partner.

The winning entry from an online vote will also be featured in STP’s National Towns Portal and its originator will be able to present it to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Towns.

Entries for 2016 close on 22 October.

www.scotlandstowns.org/futuretown_design_competition

Cross Party Group on Towns

MSPs from the five political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament have come together to reconstitute the Cross Party Group (CPG) on Towns and Town Centres.

The CPG acts as a collaborative forum to discuss policy and actions directed at supporting Scotland’s towns. It also allows MSPs to transcend party politics to give a parliamentary voice to towns.

This session’s CPG will be convened by John Scott, Conservative MSP for Ayr. The deputy convenors are Gillian Martin (SNP) and Daniel Johnstone (Labour).

Scott is looking forward to a busy session and added: “Scotland’s towns are rich in heritage, and town centres have strong potential to unlock investment, increase footfall, and guarantee prosperity and fairness for communities.

“In this parliament the CPG will continue to support the Town Centre Action Plan, and promote initiatives that can revitalise our towns”.

CPG meetings over the next 12 months will invite key figures to present on topics including “celebrating local leaders”, “towns mean business”, digital strategies, and inclusive towns.

On 5 October the CPG will host its annual parliamentary reception, which will be a celebration of small and rural towns, as well as launching Scotland’s Towns Week.

For more information, including on design competition entries and attending the parliamentary reception, email ewan@scotlandstowns.org

• This article appears in the Autumn 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.