More should be done to halt decline of town centres across Scotland, say MSPs

Measures brought in by the Scottish Government to tackle derelict buildings have been “insufficient” according to MSPs looking into the long-term decline of town centres.

The Economy and Fair Work Committee published a report on Tuesday calling for action to halt declining town centres across Scotland.

While local authorities do have powers to tackle derelict buildings, there can often be a “reluctance” to enforce actions due to a lack of resources.

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The report said: “The committee is of the view that the Scottish Government’s actions may be insufficient and that more may need to be done to address this problem.”

Measures brought in by the Scottish Government to tackle derelict buildings have been “insufficient” according to MSPs looking into the long-term decline of town centres.

Planning rules should be reformed to ensure no new developments unfairly compete with town centre provision.

A rebalancing of the cost of doing business to make town centres more competitive including possible changes to non-domestic rates is also needed to support investment in town centres.

The committee has called on every town in Scotland to have their own plan and a long-term strategic vision for the future, recognising their histories and the community that brings them together.

Members visited towns such as Dumfries and Burntisland in Fife throughout their research.

Claire Baker MSP, convener of the Economy and Fair Work Committee said: “This report should signal a line in the sand for how we support, develop and prioritise investment in our town centres. We all know a town centre that has empty shops, a lack of investment and few thriving businesses.

“Throughout this inquiry we heard that although the pandemic accelerated trends towards online shopping, people really care about the future of their town centre and what is on their doorstep.

“The positive benefits that a thriving town centre can bring are clear – not just economically but socially and culturally as well.

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“As we move into a challenging period for our retail sector, our committee is unified in its call that vibrant, thriving town centres must be prioritised.

“This report recognises that the only way to do that is through changing how we support these developments through various measures from planning to non-domestic rates.

“This report signals that change is needed. We know there is no quick fix but unless we start now, then we won’t be able to halt the accelerated decline of recent years we’ve seen already in too many communities across Scotland.”

Community wealth minister Tom Arthur said: “The Scottish Government welcomes the committee’s findings and will carefully study the detail of the report.

“We are working with businesses to deliver strong and sustainable town centres through our £80 million Covid Economic Recovery Fund, our £6 million City Centre Recovery Fund, the Place Based Investment Programme and the Town Centre Action Plan.

“Our fourth National Planning Framework, currently before Parliament for approval, recognises our cities and towns as a national asset.

“Town centres bring together a wide range of functions and land uses and NPF4 will strengthen support for development in centres to be considered first, while limiting out-of-town retail development.

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“The Scottish Budget 2022-23 delivered the lowest poundage in the UK for the fourth year in a row, ensuring more than 95% of non-domestic properties continue to be liable for a lower property tax rate than anywhere else in the UK.”