Scotland’s Towns Conference 2023: Town centre living, creativity, environmental sustainability and collaboration will be central to stronger communities of the future
A Scottish Government Minister shared a vision of how Scotland’s towns can be at the heart of a national economic renaissance powered by local action.
Joe FitzPatrick MSP, Minister for Local Government Empowerment and Planning, outlined hopes for delivering better towns for all as he spoke at the Scotland’s Towns Conference.
The sell-out Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP) event shone a spotlight on innovative and inspiring work taking place across the country to create a new future for the nation’s places.
And it highlighted how having people living in town centres – repurposing and revitalising vacant buildings – will be central to delivering that, making these places where people live, work and visit.
Speaking after delivering the conference’s opening address at the Apex Hotel in Dundee, Mr FitzPatrick said: “I’ve visited various towns across the country to see first-hand the good work being done by local communities and to hear about their ambitious shared plans.
“We’re committed to welcoming people back into towns and continue to provide a package of support, including our Place Based Investment Programme which is providing £140 million directly to local authorities over five years. Business Improvement Districts and the Scotland Loves Local campaign also provide welcome boosts to local economies.
“I want to see our town centres continue to be the beating heart of our communities, offering diverse, sustainable, and thriving places for people to live, work and enjoy. Supporting a good quality of life and balancing our environmental impact is critical. By, thinking, choosing, and living locally, we will transform our towns for future generations.”
The conference, held in partnership with Dundee City Council, included discussions about how new housing, public services, social, cultural and green spaces will play a critical part in the regeneration of town and city centres across Scotland, boosting the economy and helping people to live better locally.
Hosted by broadcaster Rona Dougall, it highlighted the direct work being done by community organisations to encourage enterprise, tackle the climate emergency and embrace creativity.
Kimberley Guthrie, STP’s Interim Chief Officer, said: “We need to respond to the changes and challenges that the retail sector has left on our town centres and look more closely at the emerging opportunities which can help to create better places.
“It’s time to seize these to forge a new future – transforming empty buildings and spaces to create new town centre neighbourhoods, bringing fresh vibrancy to our communities.
“There are opportunities to create new cultural attractions, celebrate heritage and reimagine how public services are delivered – all of which supports retail and enhances our towns as great places in which to live, work and visit.
“Scotland’s towns are the nation’s heartbeat and localism will be at the heart of a better future. By working together, we can build on the inspirational examples at our conference and deliver towns for all.”
Other speakers included Dundee City Council leader John Alexander and Blair Parkin, Chief Experience Development Officer of the Eden Project, which is transforming the former gasworks at East Dock Street in Dundee. They shared their experiences of work locally.
Councillor Alexander said: “The themes discussed today reflect our own priorities in Dundee – making the city a healthier, fairer, greener and more successful place for all.
“We’re working to ensure every community across our city thrives, from investing in district shopping centres to new affordable housing, biodiversity projects, active travel schemes and much more.
“And of course there’s the massive regeneration that is continuing to transform the heart of Dundee, including major projects such as Eden which will be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.
“This conference provided an invaluable opportunity to share our own experiences – not least the Eden Project Dundee journey so far – and learn from those of other towns and places around the country.”
Conference delegates arriving by train in Dundee were treated to a bus tour of the city by coach firm McGill’s en-route to the Apex Hotel.
They include representatives of councils, enterprise, regeneration and community organisations from across the country.
Other contributors included Zero Waste Scotland, Architecture & Design Scotland, The Wheatley Group, VisitScotland and M Worldwide.
Today’s conference followed the 2023 Scotland Loves Local Awards, held at the V&A in Dundee last night (Tuesday). More details about that can be found here.