Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

November 21, 2012

Town Futures

The plight of Scotland’s towns is never far from the news – small towns in particular. An excellent analysis of the problem along with some possible solutions was published back in 2006 by Scottish Borders Council and there have been a fair number since then – mostly now gathering dust on shelves around the country. No one doubts the scale of the task but something needs done and momentum seems to be building again. Malcolm Fraser, chair of the Government’s review group, shares some early thoughts.


New Start Magazine

Extract from interview by New Start magazine with Malcolm Fraser .

To read full interview click here

Can you talk through some of the main areas of change in the review?
Well it’s early days, but these are some of the areas we’d like to see brought forward. Firstly, housing. I’m interested in increasing the numbers of people living in towns, and in particular in unoccupied flats above shops. Residential leaseholds in Scotland at the moment are set at a maximum of 20 years but we want to get that raised so that there’s more financial incentive. We’re also approaching housing associations to discuss whether they might take the redevelopment and management of units on. The housing associations could use the flats to bring young people to live in the town centre, people who currently can’t access a mortgage and would love to be at the heart of their communities.
Second is community assets. We want to bring estate agents with vacant properties together with community groups to find new ways to fill them. Estate agents are interested in any use of property and with a microfinance fund in place to assist the community groups – from the Church of Scotland, the Grameen bank or even Tesco – we can get, say, the local creche working with a local community business and the local bridge or dance club to all move in together into, say, an empty hall. And would the government consider such a microfinance fund, that will grow as a new community business is successful? Banks won’t act like proper, traditional lending institutions these days so what are community businesses to do?
Thirdly we want to streamline planning to make it easier for developers and retailers to move into the centre of towns. We need to understand how cities and towns evolve. I like Patrick Geddes’ view of towns as ecosystems, which is very different to conventional idea of build and then conserve. His view is more subtle and creative and allows shopfronts to be knocked about, sites to be redeveloped in different ways. We need to accept these things and do them joyfully.
The fourth area is the very important area of rates and retail and I urge the Scottish Government not to put off its rates review, as Westminster has done. Everyone knows that a review of the rates landscape is needed and a rebalancing, to reflect the reality that many town centres are struggling, would greatly assist their recovery.
A fifth area is around accessibility to public services. We’d like to see the planned community empowerment bill encouraging local authorities to consider how people get to and use public services. If you move services out of town you put a burden on the person trying to use those services who then has to access a car to reach them. We’d like to talk about how to make the best use of public buildings so that old town halls can be done up and improved and used, rather than services moved out of town.
A sixth area is about digital towns, how broadband can link within and across towns.