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South of Scotland showcase as vision for revitalising town centres is unveiled

Community Wealth Minister Tom Arthur today celebrated innovation and action across the South of Scotland as he championed new measures to revitalise town centres and regenerate local economies.

He visited the Great Tapestry of Scotland Discovery Centre in Galashiels for the ministerial launch of the Joint Response from the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) to the New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres. That response – Scotland’s Town Centre Action Plan Review (TCAP2) – was published in April.

The event – hosted jointly by the Scottish Government, Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP) and South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) – highlighted how collaboration and leadership are key to meeting the twin challenges of putting town centres first and tackling climate change.

It was the first in a series of regional events to take place across Scotland this summer to encourage organisations throughout the country to seize the recommendations made in the report to help transform communities.

The audience heard how organisations including Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway, The Borders Distillery, Energise Galashiels Trust and Scottish Borders Housing Association are already bringing many of the actions highlighted in the report into life.

Community Wealth Minister Tom Arthur said: “The Scottish Government launched this joint response to the Town Centre Action Plan Review in Galashiels to demonstrate our shared commitment with local government to supporting vital local economies through cost of living and pandemic recovery challenges.

“These actions will help improve town centres in the south of Scotland and across the country. They will help deliver net zero climate ambitions whilst, in partnership with local government, promoting better planning and delivering enhanced digital capabilities for businesses and residents.

“This approach will also help us deliver entrepreneurship ambitions set out in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation by creating enterprising communities.

“Scotland has been identified as fast becoming a global leader in Community Wealth Building. The Scottish Government will introduce legislation on Community Wealth Building during this term of the Scottish Parliament to support transformation of our local economies.”

Actions from the TCAP2 report include:

  • Embedding a town centre first approach to meet community needs and tackle climate change
  • Incentivising entrepreneurship
  • Limiting out-of-town developments
  • Encouraging digital transformation
  • Exploring a new online sales tax to help traditional businesses compete with those operating online

The full report can be read here.

The New Future for Scotland Town Centres was authored by Professor Leigh Sparks, Deputy Principal and Professor of Retail Studies at the University of Stirling and Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership.

He said: “The continued decline of our town centres is far from inevitable. But, in order to turn the tide, we need to stop repeating the mistakes of the past. That means putting town centres first. 

“By doing so, we can make town centres more attractive, vibrant places to live, work and visit. It’s by no means easy and there is a huge amount of work to do. Our towns, though, should be at the heart of a more sustainable, fairer, healthier and greener Scotland. By reinvigorating our towns, we will protect jobs and create better places to call home.

“Communities across the South of Scotland are already demonstrating how a place-based holistic approach – underpinned by ambition and collaboration – can revitalise towns. I cannot wait to see many more following them.”

Councillor Steven Heddle, CoSLA’s Spokesperson for the Environment and Economy, said: “We are happy to support the launch today of the joint Town Centre Action Plan. The social, economic and environmental wellbeing of every member of our communities depends upon the towns they call home. To deliver a modern, sustainable, fairer, healthier and greener Scotland it is essential that our towns achieve their full potential.

 “These same towns are at the heart of many of our Local Authorities, and through the Town Centre Action Plan and our support for the town centre first principle, Local Government continues to work to deliver the conditions needed for our towns to flourish.

“Overcoming the challenges affecting our towns in the face of the cost of living crisis and ongoing recovery from Covid will not be easy, but collaboration and commitment from all those with a responsibility can provide a clear direction to help our towns achieve their ambitions.”

A panel discussion on opportunities that exist in town centres and how to achieve them was hosted by SOSE Chair Professor Russel Griggs.

Professor Griggs said: “SOSE is fully supportive of plans to revitalise Scotland’s town centres.

“We are particularly ambitious for the South and are keen to look beyond the previous challenges our town centres have faced – instead focusing on their potential and how that fits with the aspirations of the local community as a whole.

“Across Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders, our towns are places where our passionate communities can come together. These communities need to be part of the overall plan for our town centres so that the community as a whole owns the vision and support the benefits it will bring them.

“We know there is a lot of work still to be done, but we will continue to build on the strengths of our towns, while working alongside our partners to ensure the right support is in place to enable delivery and change at a local level.”