Keith Geddes: Putting Central Belt on the path to a greener environment

LEAD the transformation of central Scotland? Not an easy task, but that's the responsibility that's been given to the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN), one of the Scottish Government's 14 priorities in the National Planning Framework.

Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham has tasked the group with delivering an "environmental step-change for Scotland's Central Belt" and has indicated that the project is "on a par with the replacement Forth crossing" in its importance to the national economy.

One of Scotland's greatest assets has always been its landscapes and natural heritage; less so, though, in the Central Belt. The area still bears the legacy of the industrial revolution; there is still a dearth of quality green space in some of our towns and villages and those that do exist are often poorly maintained.

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The economy is the obvious priority for action. The recession and growing long-term youth unemployment both demand that Scotland works to improve its chances of winning new investment and in providing young people with the skills necessary to help them in the labour market.

In the modern economy, place matters. Knowledge-based industries are looking for attractive environments. Outside the major cities, central Scotland has tended to compete on the basis of costs and accessibility, but this is no longer sufficient.

So the CSGN will be working with enterprise agencies, urban regeneration companies and local authorities to develop quality and competitive business locations, while at the same time working to address negative perceptions of the area by promoting the region as a green place to invest.

Another of our early priorities is to create a central Scotland walkway that would allow ramblers to cross the country from, say Dunbar to Dumbarton. The principal benefit would be for those living in the Central Belt, providing opportunities for exercise and recreation. However the route would also be a tourist attraction.

Improving the quality of life of people is the bottom line. Research shows that the quality of the local environment has a major impact on people's health and life chances. What people see when they open their window in the morning determines how they feel about the place where they stay, affects their perceptions of themselves and of the community in which they live. So the CSGN will work to deliver community-based projects to create or improve parks, growing areas and quality play parks.

We are not starting from scratch. Much has already been achieved by those working in the area. However there is a need, particularly when resources are limited, for organisations to work together in a more focussed way and to work in partnership where clear priorities are identified and resources are shared.

The CSGN prospectus was launched earlier this month at the new 70 million Motherwell College, built on the old Ravenscraig site. Adjacent to the college, the Building Research Establishment is constructing its Scottish Innovation Park, where 2m is being invested to develop a housing demonstration project incorporating new technology designed to tackle issues such as climate change.

These projects provide examples of the types of development located in a green central Scotland that could help transform the country's economic prospects and the quality of life of the three million Scots who live in the area.

• Keith Geddes chairs the Central Scotland Green Network.