A BLUEPRINT for reviving Scotland’s town centres today called for policies to put high streets before business parks and out-of-town developments.
A review team, led by Edinburgh architect Malcolm Fraser, urged a stronger mix of leisure, public facilities and homes in the heart of towns and a fresh look at business rates.
The National Review of Town Centres, commissioned by the Scottish Government, recommended a “town centre first” principle, which would mean public bodies looking at how they can support town centres before considering development elsewhere.
And it urged councils to work with housing providers to bring empty town centre properties back into use as affordable homes.
Mr Fraser said town centres were about more than retail. He said there should be more people living there, more offices and more council services.
“Our 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.
“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 report said current VAT rules encouraged out-of-town development by exempting new-build development while charging the full 20 per cent tax on repair of existing buildings.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the review’s “practical ideas” for re-energising town centres.
She said: “By diversifying our high streets we will make them even better places to live, work and socialise.”
Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, agreed town centres had to diversify, but warned the retail sector should not be taken for granted. She said: “We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that retail is at the heart of Scottish communities and should remain a key component of any successful town centre.”