1. In 2013 the National Review of Town Centres was published. The Scottish Government responded with its Town Centre Action Plan (TCAP). In the intervening seven years there has been progress in numerous local towns. The context, policy framework and ambition for Scotland and its towns however has developed significantly further. This can be seen in the statutory National Outcomes, world-leading climate change response, commitments to tackling inequalities and improving wellbeing and health and the acceleration of digitalisation across economy and society. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has become the latest challenge for Scotland's towns and town centres, reinforcing and increasing inequalities and developing new disparities and problems that urgently need to be tackled. The impacts of Brexit are adding to these. Together these present immediate and long-term major national challenges. They also provide an opportunity to reconsider the future for Scotland's towns and re-energise towns and town centres as part of our solution to meeting these challenges. People want to be able to live well locally; towns and town centres can help deliver this.
2. In July 2020 the Scottish Government established a Review Group, chaired by Professor Leigh Sparks of the University of Stirling. The members of the Review Group were invited from a variety of relevant organisations and backgrounds. The Review Group was asked to:
"Review the progress and scope of the Town Centre Action Plan, published in response to the National Review of Town Centres conducted in 2013 by Malcolm Fraser and the Expert Advisory Group and produce a report detailing its findings with a revised vision for towns and a means to deliver that vision nationally and locally….. The Review will place particular emphasis on recovering from the impact of COVID-19 on Scotland's town centres, as well as on meeting Scotland's climate change ambitions, identifying what further steps should be considered to make towns fit for all in Scotland".
3. The Review Group were also asked to advise on how to adopt the Programme for Government's commitment for 20-minute neighbourhoods (the creation of liveable, accessible places with thriving local communities where people and communities can meet their daily needs within a 20-minute walk) for our cities, towns, rural and island communities.
4. Both the National Review of Town Centres and the Town Centre Action Plan were notable for their emphasis on vision, action and deliverability. The Review Group was asked to focus on themes and actions rather than narrative, whilst recognising that towns are unique places requiring flexibility of approaches, best served by local, community-led solutions.
5. In carrying out our task, the Review Group invited oral and written evidence, undertook a public survey and followed up specific issues with further conversations. The details of this work have been collated and will be published on a website, together with key previously published reports that informed the work. In summary, the public survey (1533 useable responses) showed a strong support for Scotland's town centres but sometimes a sense of disappointment with what was on offer in them. The oral evidence sessions were organised via seven structural themes (28 respondent organisations) to allow sectors and issues to be explored in a convenient way. The written evidence (79 respondents) came from a wide range of individuals and organisations across Scotland, including organisations that also provided oral evidence. Further specific sessions/surveys were organised with selected groups to obtain views from more seldom heard voices, such as with YoungScot, Third Sector Interface and Scottish Inclusion Liaison Committee. Cross membership of the Review Group with the Social Renewal Advisory Board (SRAB) and its Place-Based and Community Led Circle further enabled the social renewal dimension. Scottish Government colleagues provided the Review Group with views regarding the interconnected policy context. We attempted to obtain input from as wide a range of stakeholders as possible, but recognise the constraints of doing this in a short timescale and in the middle of a global pandemic. The Review Group met virtually on 11 occasions. Review Group members were asked to use their own, and their organisations' expertise, their engagement with the oral and written evidence and their analysis of the material gathered to inform our debate, direction, recommendations and report drafting.