1. Executive summary - Context
The independent report 'A New Future for Scotland's Town Centres' was delivered by the Town Centre Action Plan Review Group and published in February 2021. We welcomed the report developed by the Review Group, support its overarching aim to work collaboratively with our communities and other partners, and support the vision developed by the Independent Review Group that:
"Towns and town centres are for the wellbeing of people, planet and the economy. Towns are for everyone and everyone has a role to play in making their own town and town centres successful."
The revised Town Centre Action Plan 2 sets out our response to the broad range of recommendations proposed in the Review. It sets out government's response both national and local as enablers of positive change whilst recognising the limits of what can be achieved if government were to act in isolation.
Scotland's town centres are much more than simply buildings and spaces, they are the beating heart of our communities and country. Towns are full of emotional and personal connections that go way beyond the physical environment. They form part of our personal, community and national identity and deliver outcomes at the social, environmental as well as the economic level.
The independent report was commissioned to build upon the internationally recognised town centre first approach developed and adopted in Scotland. It provided an opportunity to rethink and reenergise our efforts to develop towns and town centres that meet the diverse social, environmental and economic needs and aspirations of our communities. 'A New Future for Scotland's Town Centres' reflected on the very positive moves that Scotland has taken since the National Review of Town Centres 2013. The development of Town Centre First, the Town Centre Action Plan, the Place Principle and the Place Based Investment Programme have been important steps in placing town centres at the heart of policy and investment.
The recent review also recognised that the wider policy landscape has altered in Scotland and beyond. The declaration of a climate emergency, the focus on health and wellbeing of the population and the inequalities across society and economy have all come to the fore, altering the context for towns and emphasising their role as solutions to these challenges. Towns are integral to the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and our National Performance Framework. Covid-19 and our response to it as a nation has reinforced the direction and urgency of responding to the challenges faced by our town centres, dramatically altering our living and working patterns and emphasising the necessity of strong local communities, organisations and towns.
Towns are individual and unique and have their own histories and assets. They need a coherent and consistent framework to allow local confidence in a focus on the local town and its situation. This cannot be a Government top-down policy, though the Government can be a key enabler, but rather a National Call to Action for all those engaged in our towns. It starts with communities and people building on their needs, wants and aspirations, using assets and building local confidence and action. This requires a place based approach, where the local context is at the heart of collaborative and participative action. Local authorities are vital to this, using their scale and services to deliver and bringing together communities, social enterprises, businesses, charities and other key local organisations to work together. National level organisations, including public bodies and agencies can build on this and contribute knowledge and funds to deliver at the local town level.
Words on a page, or bullet points in a plan set the scene; they do not deliver the outcomes we need on the ground. This is not one person's, one public body or one organisation's responsibility; it is a shared endeavour and requires individuals in whatever role they have to take positive action. It also requires all of us to reflect on and avoid actions and decisions which continue to damage and harm our town centres. This Call for Action sets out some of the ways in which we can all seek to do our part, locally and nationally, in re-building, re-energising and re-imagining our towns to meet our place and country ambitions.
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