This is the third in a loosely linked series of posts arising in part from the publication of the draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) and the New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres
The first post was my discussion of aspects of the draft NPF4. The second part was a reflection on retail impact assessments in the light of the climate emergency, the Scottish Government priorities and the TCAP Review/NPF4. This final post is a reflection on the progress we need to make in the coming years. It is based on the short presentation I made at the Scotland’s Towns Conference on the 23rd November (and a video of the session which included the Minister Tom Arthur MSP and Craig McLaren (RTPI) can be found on YouTube).
The basic contention of the presentation is that the second recommendation from the Town Centre Action Plan Review report is really important. The Draft NPF4 and a lot of the excellent work in the Place Based Investment Programme (PBIP) and other associated and aligned investments address the other two areas of recommendations. They are supportive and provide encouragement. We are left though with the existing developments and the advantages they have, which both continue the harm of recent decades and reduce the impact of the very positive developments in NPF4 and PBIP. Hence the question at the head of this post: Should every encouragement be accompanied by an equal and opposite discouragement?
The overheads from my presentation are available for download below, but do follow a well worn track (that is what I was asked to do). The rest of the post is a short summary of what I tried to say.
“In any discussion of Scotland and towns it is worthwhile noting that we start from an enviable position. The framework set out a decade plus ago has served us well and has been developed and enhanced substantially. Scotland is seen as leading internationally in this regard.
As with any good set of policies the time comes to reflect on external factors and revised ambitions. Covid, climate change and wellbeing have focused attention on what more we can do about towns and places in Scotland. This led to the Town Centre Action Plan Review and the publication of A New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres. We have covered this background and the recommendations in this blog before.
Two of the three areas for recommendations are well underway. NPF4 is a step forward and finance has been found and aligned to take initiatives forward. Yes, there is more that can be done, but this is a good first six months.
The third area of recommendation – stop doing harm – was always going to be tougher. It asks difficult questions of us all and can only really be addressed by all of us (governments, organisations and individuals) changing our behaviours. This is a big ask and politically difficult (not least as aspects straddle administrations). When we wrote the report we knew this was the most difficult and controversial area. We also knew it was no quick fix, and no simple solutions are available.
But, if we are to do the right things for people, planet and the economy, we have to make a start. We will not succeed by doing the same things we have for the last 50+ years only a little less badly. We need to be bold and opt for radical change. We need to tackle the damage we have inherited and done and that means an end to business as usual away from town and city centres.
The economy and society have changed, and our tax system has to catch up or it will be rendered irrelevant. The pre-pandemic situation was not working for so many, so using Covid as an excuse to ‘return to normal’ is rather insulting. Unless we deflect them, existing operations will continue to do harm, especially if we make life ever more difficult for our towns and cities. And finally if we are to deliver agreed national policies on community wealth building, 20-minute neighbourhoods and wellbeing and inequalities, let alone deal with climate change, then we need to be bold and radical. Time is short to make the necessary changes, as challenging as they are.
So, for every encouragement that we give, perhaps we should also ask for an opposite discouragement to maximise the impact of the good things we are doing?”
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