On 1st July 2020, it was announced that an Expert Review Group had been formed by the Scottish Government to undertake an appraisal of the Town Centre Action Plan published in 2013 as a response to the National Review of Town Centres (the Fraser Review). I was asked to chair the Review.
Members of the Review Group include COSLA, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Improvement Service, South of Scotland Enterprise, the Carnegie Trust, the Federation of Small Businesses, Public Health Scotland, Sustrans, Development Trust Association Scotland, Inclusion Scotland and the Scottish Government.
The terms of Reference for the Expert Review Group are
“To review the progress and scope of the Town Centre Action Plan, published in response to the National Review of Town Centres conducted in 2013 by Malcolm Fraser and the Expert Advisory Group, and produce a report by the end of 2020 detailing its findings with a revised vision for towns and a means to deliver that vision nationally and locally.
The review will place particular emphasis on how Scotland’s town centres can best recover from the impact of COVID-19, as well as the positive contribution they can make to meeting Scotland’s climate change ambitions and wider wellbeing outcomes. It will identify what further steps should be considered to make towns fit for all in Scotland.”
The Review is tasked with issuing its report and recommendations for consideration by the Scottish Government by the end of 2020.
The Town Centre Action Plan, published in 2013, can be accessed through the Scottish Government’s town centre regeneration page, where you will also find links to the 2013 National Review of Town Centres, as well as one year and two year progress reports on the Town Centre Action Plan.
In announcing the Review, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Ms Aileen Campbell said:
“Town centres are crucial to our economic recovery and renewal as we emerge from lockdown and it’s important we do all we can to support them. COVID-19 has changed the way we all live, work and shop, and we must develop safe spaces that meet the diverse economic, social and environmental needs of city, country, village and island populations.
“By nurturing connections between local producers and retailers and their communities we enhance the wellbeing of our communities.
“Our town centre-first approach has been held up as an example throughout the UK and globally. Now we have the opportunity to develop healthier, vibrant, and greener town centres that support communities to thrive.”
In agreeing to chair the Review, I noted:
“Our town centres need to be successful places which are socially and economically inclusive.
“The National Review of Town Centres in 2013 and the Town Centre Action Plan which followed have provided a pathway for towns in recent years.
“COVID-19 provides a challenge to our towns and town centres, but also an opportunity to rethink and re-energise our efforts to make towns fit for all in Scotland.
“I am delighted therefore to have been asked to lead this new group at this critical and important time.”
In the flurry of activity around that announcement and the subsequent work being put into place, I have neglected to say anything about this on this blog.
Obviously I am delighted to be asked to do this, have enjoyed getting stuck into some of the initial work and am looking forward to reflecting further on the Town Centre Action Plan, updating and filling in gaps and developing extensions that are needed and trying to develop a vision of town centres for our very changed world (and this is not just COVID but also the changed policy and other landscapes in Scotland including the role of Community and the impact of Climate Change).
As the initial phase, there was a formal call for evidence and a series of oral evidence sessions which took place last week. We are now reading and synthesising this evidence and reflecting on the changed context since 2013. This will inform our thinking and then we are likely to come out with some approaches and suggestions and test these with a range of stakeholders and others interested in strengthening our town centres.
In addition however, as part of the review, the Expert Review Group is inviting local communities to share their views through a public survey. The survey will run until Wednesday 30th September 2020 at 17:00. It can be accessed here.
On releasing the public survey, I commented again:
“Scotland is a nation of towns. But towns aren’t just a series of buildings, streets and pavements. They are made up of people and local communities. As we begin the task of forging a new vision for towns it is crucial that the voices, views and ideas of local people are at its heart.
“The Review Group wants to hear from as many people as possible about their experiences and their ideas for the future. Local people aren’t just bystanders in our towns – communities are the very life-blood of our society. If we can put together a strategy that has community input and buy-in from the start, it is our hope that we can all share in the responsibility for its success.”
It is important that we get views, not just from those who are normally involved in town centres but in those who use them and would like to see them flourish. We are trying for as broad an engagement as we can and hope that we can think through the opportunities we have to make our towns greener and healthier places. This may involve more radical thinking than we have seen before, given the challenges we now face. I have commented on some of these here before.
Much more is to come on this topic.