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‘We all have a role to play in making Scotland’s towns better’, leaders say

Scotland’s Towns Conference 2022: We must put town centres at the heart of nation’s response to climate emergency, Covid recovery and cost of living

Collaboration and determination will deliver a new future for Scotland’s towns while tackling the challenges of climate change, coronavirus recovery and the rising cost of living, a Scottish Government minister said today (Wednesday).

Tom Arthur MSP, Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, reinforced the need to put town centres first as he spoke at the 2022 Scotland’s Towns Conference, held at CentreStage in Kilmarnock.

He said: “Our towns are important to us all – for our communities, economy and the environment. Effective regeneration is led by local people collaborating – they are best placed to identify appropriate solutions for their neighbourhoods and communities.

“There are valuable regeneration initiatives taking shape across the country. At their heart is partnership – between communities, local authorities, the Scottish Government, businesses, development trusts, business improvement districts, investors and others.

“Despite the challenges of climate change, the pandemic and wider economic issues, with cooperation and determination we can still have a positive future.

“Thinking locally can help cut journeys and emissions, improve health and wellbeing, protect jobs and build a sustainable economy in line with our Town Centre Action Plan and National Strategy for Economic Transformation goals.”

A New Future for Scotland’s Towns is the theme of the sell-out event, organised by Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP), the national collective which champions towns and places. Staged in partnership with East Ayrshire Council, it is the first in-person conference in three years.

Hosted by broadcaster Rona Dougall, the conference is shining a spotlight on the ideas, innovations and actions needed to secure a greener, stronger, more sustainable, future.

STP Chief Officer Phil Prentice said: “The decline of our town centres is far from inevitable. Everyone can help ensure future success. We all have a role to play in making our towns better.

“Towns and town centres should be at the heart of improving the wellbeing of people, the planet and our economy. Work in local communities will drive our national response to the climate emergency, the ongoing recovery from the pandemic and in tackling the cost of living crisis.

“The new future will see us put our town centres first as places where we live, work and visit, deal with systemic market failures which have contributed to many of the challenges we are experiencing and attempt to rebalance taxation to enable collaborative and community-focussed investment.

“I hope our conference will inform and inspire – showcasing ideas and innovations which we can all learn from to deliver a stronger, more sustainable future in which localism thrives.”

The conference day started in style with some of the 200 delegates attending from all over the country being treated to an open-top bus tour of Kilmarnock – from the train station to CentreStage – led by the region’s Provost, Councillor Jim Todd.

Among the successful local projects highlighted by the Minister were the partnerships which have delivered the transformation of the former Diageo site in Kilmarnock, the creation of CentreStage and other cultural initiatives, launch of Celebrate Kilmarnock and community-led regeneration schemes in places including Cumnock, Darvel, New Cumnock and Mauchline.

The leader of East Ayrshire Council, Councillor Douglas Reid, also spoke at the conference.

He said: “Hosting today’s conference is a great boost for us here in East Ayrshire, and a testament to all the hard work which we and our partners have put into meeting the challenges of a changing town centre landscape. 

“Our projects are living proof of how, in the face of budgetary constraint, a changing retail environment and the after-effects of Brexit and Covid,  it’s partnership working and innovative thinking that have pulled us through.  Our strength as an area lies in the resilience and versatility of our people, and by leading the way with schemes such as the East Ayrshire Gift Card we’ve been able to help each other, across public, private and voluntary sectors, to re-purpose buildings, change habits and open up new opportunities. 

“Today’s event is not just a great way to show what we’ve achieved however – it’s a great chance for us to come together with people from other places, share our experiences, expertise and coping strategies, all with the end goal of making our town centres the best they can be for those who use and love them.” 

The conference comes after the challenges and opportunities that exist for communities were discussed in a series of roadshows throughout Scotland examining the Response from the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) to the New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres report. That response – Scotland’s Town Centre Action Plan Review (TCAP2) – was published earlier this year.

Sessions at the event explore how places can respond to the climate emergency and drive towards net-zero, embracing creativity, enhancing streets and spaces, capitalising on digital opportunities and looking at the future of retail.

Other features include a Scotland Loves Local Town Square, showcasing many of the organisations inspiring people to help build a better future for their area by thinking, choosing and spending locally.

Delegates include representatives of enterprise, regeneration and community organisations from across the country.