SCOTLAND’S town centres need a new lease of life. And the recently published “National Review of Town Centres External Advisory Group Report: Community and Enterprise in Scotland’s Town Centres” is a reasonable starting point for action.
The report is correct in its assertion that “Scotland needs its networks of urban places to work more effectively, in order to regain their creative, commercial bustle.” Depressing and uninspiring are adjectives that can be applied to many town centres in Scotland today. Where once there was life, now there appears to be only a stifled existence for many beleaguered businesses.
The report’s view that property developers, like myself, could be steered to development opportunities in, or as close to, town centres as feasibly possible, rather than building on more remote greenfield sites, echoes much of my thinking.
Lowering the costs and complexities of doing business on our high streets must be considered a priority, along with the idea of incentives in terms of business rate schemes that encourage traders to take up the many vacant properties currently blighting our town centres. I am all for diversity and individual thinking that helps change the face of our town centres. And Bellair are at the forefront of using private funding in the urban regeneration mix, spearheading the kind of change the Scottish Government report appears to be proposing.
Falkirk Business Hub
We are currently investing £2 million in a self-funded project converting the former General Post Office into Falkirk Business Hub, a four-storey, 27,000 square-foot business centre complex. Instead of a prominent building standing empty and blighting the area, we are creating a fully-managed business community where tenants can pay to work for a matter of hours or for 20 years or more, depending on their individual needs.
I believe passionately in buoyant town centres, and not just for Falkirk, as we are already looking at the possibility of rolling out this new model to other locations in Scotland. The Malcolm Fraser report and inquiry must be taken seriously or the tumbleweed will blow even harder through our town centres, making any fightback all the more difficult.
• Alistair Campbell is Managing Director of Bellair (Scotland)