Putting the Town Centres Review into Action

Andrew Sim, Development Planner at Fife Council and Vice-Chair of the Scottish Young Planners’ Network Steering Group reflects on the recent SYPN CPD Event “Putting the Town Centres Review into Action”

This event was hosted and sponsored by DLA Piper in Edinburgh, with Sandy Telfer (DLA Piper) providing a legal perspective, Alasdair Morrison (GVA) providing a consultancy perspective, and Alastair Mitchell (Falkirk Business Improvement District and the Association of Town Centre Management) providing an ‘on the ground’ perspective to the debate.

As we gathered in the striking offices of DLA Piper, it was clear that either the topic or the speakers had triggered the interest of over 30 Scottish young planners. Indeed, perhaps it was both.

In reflecting on wide and knowledgeable contributions, it is clear that the Fraser Review published earlier this year is informing debate on how town and city centres are truly revitalised. Contributors during the evening talked of the world having changed with the uptake of digital media and the preference of many real estate operators to only invest in prime land or property. Similarly the role of planning policy and the statutory powers held by local authorities enlivened discussion.

Post event it falls to this blog to capture many of the inevitable debates around resources (public or private) and the challenge of how we assess comparable market evidence for retail demand, whilst acknowledging operator site requirements and ultimately market choice. Up skilling planners in retail and sequential planning may be an answer however the real test will surely rather arrive when practitioners and decision makers embrace the bigger picture creating visions and identifiable zonings together for town and city centres.
It is clear from commentary and observations post Fraser Review, that improved town centres must be configured putting people and ‘non retail’ uses at the core. Interesting contributions from delegates during the evening confirmed this highlighting the challenges of Scotland’s climate in promoting an outdoor economy and how place marketing can be embraced for town or city centres.

Whichever path legislation or guidance takes for town centres it is clear that commercial investment must be complemented by shop front or town centre environmental improvements, the promotion of creative art spaces, entertainment locations and living space. It is clearly only together that these elements can combine to ensure that town centres once more adjust and aspire.

If you want to receive further information about Scottish Young Planners’ Network events and activities contact Nikola Miller on sypn@rtpi.org.uk

(This blog is representative of Andrew’s own professional views, not those of his employer or RTPI Scotland.)

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