Flourishing and vibrant towns centres are essential for the social and economic wellbeing of our country. Over the years, however, towns have faced significant and serious challenge. In response to some of that, our communities, local government, businesses and third sector partners have worked collaboratively to take a 'town centre first' approach, guided by our internationally recognised 2013 Town Centre Action Plan.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has brought new and serious economic challenge to our towns and places and has required us to look again at how we support them. That is why we commissioned this review of the Action Plan to ensure we have the right measures in place to enable our towns to emerge from COVID with resilience.
Because while the impact of COVID-19 continues to be traumatic and harsh, it has prompted changes to the way we live that have started to foster a re-appreciation of the value of what is on our doorstep. We are, by necessity, staying closer to home, reconnecting and rediscovering our town centres in a new way and using them differently. For good and for ill, this has impacted upon the businesses, services and shared spaces there, making this review all the more necessary.
But we are not starting entirely from scratch, with many of our key approaches and frameworks providing strong and robust foundations to build this work from. The National Performance Framework articulates our vision for national wellbeing underpinned by the values of kindness, dignity and respect. In pursuit of this, we have a range of outcome indicators all driving action on inclusive development, climate change and equalities. Town centres can help translate these aspirations into a reality with the Town Centre First approach, the Place Principle and the 20 minute neighbourhood concept all encouraging positive collaborative place-based approaches to help us shape a more sustainable future.
There are also exciting opportunities to empower our communities and ensure that we maximise the impact of resources to drive better local outcomes. People and communities know their towns best and the Community Wealth Building approach along with Community Empowerment legislation offer exciting ways to deliver on the growing appetite for localism and the need for us to trust and strengthen the opportunities for people to have a stake in the places around them.
I commissioned this review to provide us with an opportunity to rethink and re-energise our efforts to develop places that meet the diverse social, economic and environmental needs of our communities. It supports our ambitions for recovery and renewal to enable those communities to thrive. The report develops a new vision for the future of our town centres, capturing some of the new found sense of localism, and develops ideas and recommendations to help achieve the healthier, fairer, greener, successful towns our communities deserve.
I'm indebted to the Chair, Professor Leigh Sparks and all the members of the Review Group for the knowledge, expertise and hard work they have brought to this endeavour in the midst of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. I'm also grateful to all those who participated in the review providing evidence both in written and oral form as well as those who responded to the public survey.
This report and its recommendations require action across a range of fronts. As my cabinet colleagues and I consider this important report, I would encourage all those interested in the health and vitality of our town centres - our local government partners, communities, businesses and third sector organisations - to do the same. As our towns continue to evolve and develop, we will all need to remain agile and adaptable as new opportunities present themselves and new challenges emerge. Because regardless of the challenge, what will continue to be necessary for the success of our towns and communities will be collaboration and partnership. The challenges are tough, but if we embrace opportunity, work hard, and trust our communities then the rewards will be significant and long-lasting.
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