Town centre action plan review: joint Scottish Government and COSLA response

Joint response from SG and COSLA to the New Future for Scotland's Town Centres report. Sets out some of the ways in which we can all seek to do our part, locally and nationally, in rebuilding, reenergising and reimagining our towns to meet our place and country ambitions.

3. 2022 Town Centre Action Plan - Actions

A: Putting the right policy framework in place

Planning policy

We will

1. Direct development to the most sustainable locations and take account of 'a New Future for Scotland's Town Centres'[2], and the views of consultees in the finalised version of the National Planning Framework 4 [3](NPF4) to be laid in Parliament.

2. Seek views in forthcoming public consultation on whether new permitted development rights and/or changes to the use classes order could support the recovery of Scotland's town centres, taking account of the 'New Future for Scotland's Town Centres'.

3. Develop and implement town centre strategies with communities, where no suitable strategies exist and they are identified as being required. Make it clear in local place plan guidance that people and communities including those less heard, are enabled via local development plans[4] to shape and influence the development of their neighbourhoods and the town centres.

4. Reform and modernise the compulsory purchase system in Scotland making it fairer, clearer and faster for all parties to support the delivery of much‑needed infrastructure, development and regeneration projects in the public interest.

5. Conclude the Local Governance Review[5] and introduce a Local Democracy Bill to shift the balance of power and provide people with more control over decisions that affect the future of their communities and places they know best.

Town Centre First Principle

6. As part of our call to action re-engage, refocus and re-emphasise the Town Centre First Principle[6] and the Place Principle[7], supporting our partners to do so, including by:

I. sharing and promoting best practice;
II. strengthening guidance in the Scottish Public Finance Manual to better reflect the importance of local needs and opportunities, and the value and impact of local consequences when assessing investment options.

7. Place towns and town centres at the core of NPF4, limiting new out of town development and encouraging a town centre first approach.


8. Ensure that Scotland's Non-Domestic Rates support the transition[8] to a net zero economy, in line with the Town Centre First Principle, helping to tackle the climate crisis, and consistent with the Scottish Approach to Taxation (as set out in Scotland's Framework for Tax[9], published on 16 December 2021.)

9. Explore the taxation of digital sales in Scotland, ensuring online businesses contribute to tax revenues alongside our bricks and mortar businesses. This includes considering the UK Government's consultation exploring the pros and cons of an online sales tax published on 25 February 2022.

10. Work with the UK Government on developing the Fiscal Framework that sets out the rules for how Scotland's tax and social security powers will be managed and implemented, including through the forthcoming review of the framework in 2022.

11. Engage UK Government to review VAT treatment for refurbishment of existing buildings and how this reserved tax lever can help contribute towards net zero targets and town centre recovery.

Town Centre Living

12. Ensure NPF4 supports local living through its strategy based on spatial principles, including compact growth, local living and just transition. This will be supported by a more directive approach to where new development should take place, with new policies to proactively support and encourage opportunities for town centre living. Planning policies will focus on brownfield development, reusing vacant and derelict land and repurposing existing properties, locating homes closer to services and facilities and supporting 20 minute neighbourhoods.

13. Deliver more town centre living via Housing 2040[10] by: investing in a rolling programme of demonstrator locations, providing expertise, resources and matched funding to help illustrate what future Town Centre Living and 20 minute neighbourhood models can look like.

Digital towns

14. Introduce proposals to require developers to deploy and optimise digital connectivity in all new housing developments through building regulations.

Enterprising communities and vibrant local economies

15. Deliver the Social Enterprise Action Plan 2021-24[11] to create the conditions where place-based social enterprise activity and communities can flourish. And bring forward a Community Wealth Building Bill in this Parliament.

16. Deliver our Retail Strategy[12] which sets out the valuable role that retail plays in our communities and towns and how retailers can build on the vital contribution they make to the economic and social success of their locale and surrounding businesses.

17. Deliver our National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET)[13], which takes steps towards our vision for a wellbeing economy in 2032, with bold and ambitious actions to deliver economic prosperity, and further incentivise entrepreneurship, for all Scotland's people and places, including our towns. Publish a Wellbeing Economy Framework: a toolkit to support local councils and regions in designing local strategies that deliver wellbeing outcomes for their areas.

18. Consult on a Circular Economy Bill in May 2022, to support and encourage reduction of consumption, reuse, repair and recycling so as to reduce waste.

Climate action

19. Ensure town centre actions support our emissions reduction targets via the Climate Change Plan update (CCPu)[14] over the period to 2032, including a 75% reduction by 2030. The CCPu relates to each of the proposed climate change responses suggested for development, including in town centres such as:

l. decarbonising building construction; refurbishment; including heating, lighting, services, digital.
II. reducing car kilometres by 20% by 2030, (working together to deliver the jointly-developed route map published in draft for consultation in January 2022). Taking account of the implications for transport and road users, including pedestrians and disabled people, cyclists and public transport operators when making spatial planning and land use decisions in town centres, will support this transformation. Continue to ensure that local transport strategies consider the needs of climate change, such as road space reallocation, green space, active travel, good public transport, parking measures and electric vehicle charge points where appropriate.

20. Through the draft NPF4:

l. make clear that local development plans should strengthen community resilience to the current and future impacts of climate change, including through natural flood risk management and blue and green infrastructure;
ll. support proposals for temporary or permanent open space, green space or play space on unused or underused land;
lll. provide effective management and maintenance plans of blue and green infrastructure wherever necessary.

21. Improve how the impact of Scottish Budget and spending decisions on Greenhouse Gas emissions are assessed. And work closely with Parliamentary colleagues to improve budget information on climate change as per the Joint Review of the Budget established during autumn 2020.

22. Establish a new Industry Leadership Group to deliver a number of the Retail Strategy actions, including through developing a Just Transition plan as the sector has a significant role in helping Scotland achieve its net zero ambitions.

B: Ensuring the right kind of support

23. Continue to support Scotland's Towns Partnership[15] to act as a hub for promoting towns, providing practical support and advice and sharing of good practice, knowledge and learning.


24. Promote the use of the National Standards for Community Engagement[16] and other tools to guide planning and practice for effectively engaging with and involving communities.

25. Promote the use of the key policy and guidance documents to aid understanding and inform the implementation of the Town Centre First Principle and the Place Principle for the development of holistic town centre plans – e.g. Town Centre Toolkit[17], Place 'How to' guide[18] and relevant impact assessments such as Health Inequalities Impact Assessments[19].

26. Harness the momentum that has been building around 20 Minute Neighbourhoods to support the town centre vision. Learning from the actions and interventions of early adopters, we will research and address the challenges and concerns around delivery across settlement patterns and show how policy and investment levers and initiatives can be brought together to support delivery using the Place Principle and place based approaches.

Town Centre First Principle

27. Promote and advocate the investment hierarchy in the Infrastructure Investment Plan (IIP)[20] to increase redevelopment, repurposing and maintenance of existing assets in town centres.

Town Centre Living

28. Encourage our stakeholders to adopt housing approaches across all tenures that facilitate greener, healthier and more connected communities, including housing in town centres. Support projects that demonstrate this.

29. Work with local authorities to link the Place Based Investment Programme and capital investments in local infrastructure to Local Development Plans, to maximise the benefits of investment.

Digital towns

30. Take action to close the digital divide through the provision of digital skills, devices and data, via our Connecting Scotland programme[21], supporting up to 300,000 households get online by 2026. Support businesses to benefit from enhanced digital skills and technologies via DigitalBoost[22].

31. Support community anchor organisations to develop the digital skills of people in their communities, their capability and capacity, including via the Investing in Communities Fund.

32. Support the roll out and development of towns based service solutions such as towns' digital platforms and local gift cards, for example Scotland Loves Local.

Enterprising communities and vibrant local economies

33. Deliver the Empowering Communities[23] and Scotland Loves Local Programmes [24] supporting the development of community anchor organisations. Support the Community Ownership Support Service[25] helping community organisations, community ownership and asset transfer.

34. Provide via Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) support and advice for community enterprises and the business community to take advantage of the economic benefits and commercial opportunities relevant to building circular economies within town centres. ZWS will deliver the £5m Social Enterprise Net Zero Transition Fund[26] in partnership with Social Investment Scotland, its Circular Cities and Regions programme[27] and a business support programme[28].

Climate action

35. Develop a network of demonstrator climate action towns, targeting those with little historical engagement in climate action to develop their own collective vision. Stimulate collaborative climate action on a town scale using learning from the programme.

Measuring and evaluating progress for improvement

36. Commission and support the Understanding Scottish Places[29] (USP) consortium to review evaluation and data needs. Link the work led by the USP consortium with the Digital Transformation programme and our work on digital planning.

37. Review the effectiveness of the existing town centre audit platform. Develop an evaluation framework for funding which supports the town centre vision, commencing with work alongside the Improvement Service to evaluate the impact of local Place Based Investment Programme funding.

C: Providing a framework for investment

Demonstrator towns and funding

38. Deliver aligned multi-year funding via the Place Based Investment Programme (PBIP) and Framework[30], Empowering Communities and Scotland Loves Local Programmes to enable development of longer term plans, and deliver local projects.

39. Improve alignment of funding in support of National Transport Strategy (NTS2[31]) outcomes, including at least £320 million or 10% of the total transport budget going on active travel by 2024-25. More broadly, the second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2[32]) draft recommendations published for consultation on 20 January 2022 will inform transport investment in Scotland for the next 20 years (2022-2042). STPR2 is underpinned by the sustainable investment hierarchy. The draft recommendations included a number that were relevant to town centres, including for sustainable transport.

Town Centre Living

40. Establish a new fund for local authorities to bring empty homes and potential empty homes back into residential use and to convert suitable empty properties in neighbourhoods and town centres.

41. Continue to support partners through our Affordable Housing Supply Programme to deliver affordable housing in town centres where this has been identified as a strategic priority.

Digital Towns

42. Extend rates relief on newly lit fibre by a further 5 years to 15 years (until March 2034).

43. Invest £100 million to help businesses improve their digital skills, capacity and capability. Support and develop a Strong Digital Economy where all businesses are able to take advantage of digital technologies and public services are accessible and simple to use as key to our Digital Strategy[33].

44. Support improved broadband capacity and mobile connectivity in our towns and town centres to improve local digital platforms. This includes investments through our Reaching 100% broadband programme and our Scottish 4G Infill mobile programme.

Enterprising communities and vibrant local economies

45. Deliver the Place Based Investment Programme, including the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund which can act as a catalyst to leverage other funds to enable the acquisition of properties and land/assets.

46. Deliver the multi-year £50 million low carbon Vacant and Derelict Land Investment Programme to support innovative local approaches to tackling persistent vacant and derelict land and delivery of new green infrastructure, including in town centres.

47. Maintain the Small Business Bonus Scheme for the lifetime of the Parliament –supporting the small businesses vital to the recovery of our town centres, and ensuring that 100,000 business properties pay no rates.

Climate action

48. Increase investment in low carbon transport and net zero programmes, including leveraging public investment to mobilise private finance towards the net zero transition.

49. Provide funding for pocket parks and green space in town centres via the Nature Restoration Fund.[34]

D: Working closely with partners


50. To amplify learning and encourage adoption of best practice showcase best practice nationally in relation to town centres and the success of communities in transforming their localities.

Town centre first principle

51. Ask that government, local authorities, the wider public sector, businesses and communities re-establish putting the health of town centres at the heart of decision making.

52. Work with Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) to develop support mechanisms, provide practical guidance on place based programme delivery and build capacity to encourage commercial investment models for town centres.

Demonstrator towns

53. Work together with partners across sectors and communities to identify and learn from place based demonstrator places and projects.

Town Centre Living

54. Work with SFT and others to support the expansion of town centre living and analyse barriers and opportunities. Use this understanding to explore the development of a pipeline of propositions[35] through collaboration and partnership working.

Enterprising communities and vibrant local economies

55. Deliver the Community Wealth Building (CWB) Action Plans in 5 pilot localities[36] and promote the relevant learning. These Action Plans set out a broad suite of recommendations, for example, community ownership, asset transfer, support of inclusive ownership and economy. Explore opportunities with the localities to implement and illustrate CWB at a towns level. As set out in our Covid Recovery Strategy, we will work with all 32 local authorities, to develop their own Community Wealth Building Action Plans including objectives to protect and create good quality local employment opportunities as part of wider recovery plans.

56. Support and encourage organisations to collaborate working with and for businesses and communities such as Enterprise agencies.

57. Continue to support local business partnerships through Business Improvement Districts to create platforms for local economic growth and deliver locally agreed improvements.

58. Deliver the Scotland Loves Local programme, supporting local businesses and communities, building wealth in local communities, revitalising town centres increasing footfall and activity safely in local places

Climate action

59. Work with partners to maximise the opportunities for town and neighbourhood centres arising from a shift to home and near to home working as a result of the pandemic. This includes making use of existing vacant space and buildings on, or close to, town centres to create safe accessible local work space and increase diversity and footfall in towns.



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