Scotland business

New plan to save Scotland's town centres

Shopper with umbrella
Image caption The review hopes to encourage people to choose the town centre experience

Public bodies should put "town centres first" in their decision-making.

The National Review of Town Centres, a report commissioned by the Scottish government, said a mix of leisure, public facilities and homes is needed.

The review panel was chaired by architect Malcolm Fraser and included business figures and public bodies.

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said the report was a "starting point" in dealing with the unprecedented challenges facing town centres.

The recommendations of the review include:

  • A "town centre first" principle whereby public bodies will consider how they can support town centres before considering development elsewhere
  • Working with housing providers to bring empty town centre properties back into use as affordable housing
  • A town centre focus to review current business rates incentivisation schemes
  • A recommendation that public bodies should consider the impact of proposals to relocate services out of town centres
  • Broadening the appeal of town centres with a mix of leisure, public facilities and homes

'Rich mix'

Mr Fraser said: "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 draws attention to the way in which the tax system, controlled from Westminster, encourages out-of-town development.

It states: "The iniquity of the VAT system, whereby a new-build in a field on the edge of town is publicly-subsidised by being excused VAT, while the repair of an existing building is burdened with the full 20%, is a formal UK-wide encouragement that squanders our resources, by hugely disadvantaging the old buildings and existing town centres at the heart of our communities."

Practical ideas

The Scottish government has said the work of the review will play a "crucial role" regenerating High Streets.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon commented: "We recognise the national review group's passion for finding a future for our town centres and welcome their succinct and insightful review which outlines practical ideas for reenergising these areas.

"Town centres are the lifeblood of our communities, functioning as places of social interaction and enterprise.

"By diversifying our high streets we will make them even better places to live, work and socialise."

There has been a cautious welcome for the review from retailers' representatives.

SRC Director Fiona Moriarty said: "It is clear that if town centres are to flourish then they must diversify to include living, social, cultural and leisure activities.

"However, in doing so we mustn't lose sight that retail is at the heart of Scottish communities and should remain a key component of any successful town centre.

"This means that lowering the costs and complexities of doing business on our high streets must be seen as a priority."

Ms Moriarty added: "We must not take the retail sector for granted and policy makers should use this report as an opportunity to fully grasp the scale and pace of change the sector, and by implication our high streets, are facing."

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