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January 14, 2009

Neilston sets new direction for Scotland’s small towns

After five long hard years of planning, campaigning and local action, the people of Neilston will celebrate later this week the launch of Scotland’s first pilot of the Renaissance Towns initiative. A team of top flight designers and urban planners will join the local community in a new initiative which hopes to breathe new life into Scotland’s small towns

The Scottish Renaissance Town programme will be launched in the Glen Hall on 15th January. It will be five years – almost to the day – since the beginning of Space to live and the first mention of a grassroots-led village plan. Maybe that’s as long as it takes to grow a good idea; we have been patient. During that time – when perhaps it seemed that nothing was happening – we’ve been running workshops, speaking to councillors, lobbying policymakers and movers and shakers all over the place to convince them that ordinary places like Neilston deserve every bit as much care in their planning and building as city centres and conservation areas. For as Sam Galbraith famously said, ‘Where are the conservation areas of tomorrow?’

But it’s not only bricks and mortar. People must be at the centre, and that is why during those five years, Space to live, and then Neilston Development Trust, has steadily built upon the real sense of community here, celebrating it with the Neilston Live festival, the Bank Programme, encouraging our pride of place. And not just the Trust. Among residents’ associations, clubs and individuals there seems to be something afoot, a new sense of energy and possibility.

Perhaps that’s why we have caught the eye of some influential people, who agree with us that there’s life in our small towns that needs recognised and expressed in a quality environment. In this special edition of The Space you’ll learn about the team and the landmark process that we have been able to attract to our town. Neilston’s been here for centuries and will be, long after we’ve gone. But for now, in this tiny moment in its history, we can say that Neilston’s time has come. Let’s hear it for the small towns of Scotland!
On January 15th, as the result of years of local campaigning, Neilston becomes the first pilot Scottish Renaissance Town. A team of top-flight designers and thinkers will join Neilston’s people, local officers and elected representatives in the launch of a new initiative, which hopes to bring new life to Scotland’s small towns. All eyes will be on Neilston!

Some thoughts from Alan Simpson, design team leader for the Renaissance Programme: Many European cities have a tradition of urban care and a sense of quality that makes their urban centers so attractive. In the UK many towns and cities also maintain high standards in the urban environment – places like Durham and Bath, the Cotswold towns, in Edinburgh … (However) while as a nation we value quality in our buildings and civic spaces – the value of tradition, amenity and beauty – we nevertheless lack real concern about what a place looks like in its everyday life. This lack of concern manifests itself in low quality buildings, the poor state of our public transport system and the general condition of many of our streets and squares. It manifests itself in the prevalence of litter and pollution and in the shortage of attractive landscaping, street trees and good public art. It manifests itself in the lack of an overall concept of amenity and in a sheer lack of beauty.

The Renaissance Towns initiative seeks to help bring about a revival. At the heart of the renaissance of these towns is the fundamental belief in the value of local empowerment. A need is recognised to more fully engage and empower local communities in order to release their latent skills, knowledge and desire to improve their towns as places to live, invest and visit.”

Alan Simpson will be describing the Yorkshire experience at the launch meeting on 15 January, and these projects have attracted massive local participation.
The formation of Town Teams, made up of residents, business leaders, local authorities, indeed all relevant stakeholders and provide a vehicle to engage the interest, support and ideas of the local community;
• Large Scale Planning Workshops
• A Community Charter will be produced, which is an agreement signed up to by all parties, as to the way forward, leading to more detailed management and business plans.