Town centre builds ‘should be first choice’

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A CAMPAIGN group led by retail expert Leigh Sparks has demanded that planners adopt a “town centre first” assumption, under which developments that would draw-in shoppers should be built at the heart rather than on the edge of communities.

Scotland’s Towns Partnership, an off-shoot of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy (CSPP), wants out-of-town sites to be given planning permission only if a suitable location cannot be found in a town centre. The group also wants the Scottish and UK governments to put incentives in place to encourage more people to live in town centres by reusing empty properties above shops.

A review of the “role and function” of every town in Scotland should also be undertaken, according to the organisation, with communities asking themselves “What’s the purpose of this place?”

Sparks, professor of retail studies at Stirling University, and other members of the group – which includes Business Improvement Districts Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland – issued their call ahead of the publication of the results from the Scottish Government’s National Review of Town Centre.

CSPP policy director Ross Martin said: “We very much hope, and anticipate, that the review will take up these ideas.”

Last year, the UK government gave its official backing to television personality Mary Portas’s recommendations to rejuvenate town centres.

A £10 million high street innovation fund was launched, with Scotland receiving about £1m. But the sums involved were criticised for being too small as shops continue to struggle against the onslaught of competition from internet retailers.