June 29, 2016
Turning around the high street
With some notable exceptions, small towns find it a constant struggle to retain any level of sustained economic activity. Empty shop fronts are the bane of the high street, their impact being highly contagious, eroding the confidence of other local traders. But at the same time no one is more committed to the economic and physical wellbeing of their high street than those who live and work in it. Some interesting evidence just published by DTAS to show that small amounts of cash in the right hands at the right time can produce remarkable results.
To see full report (click here)
The purpose of the DTAS Town Centre Fund was to inspire, initiate and support more development trusts and community anchor organisations to play a greater and more prominent role within high street regeneration processes. It was envisaged that providing grants for town centre visioning and action planning exercises would act as a catalyst to action, enabling development trusts to employ external consultants to assist with a range of visioning and action planning activities, including:
• Mapping of ownership of relevant land and buildings (including planning consents)
• Survey of retailers and local businesses
• Mapping of community organisations and potential regeneration partners
• Stakeholder engagement and partnership building
• Community consultation and needs analysis
• Mapping of enterprise and income generation opportunities
• Visioning and action planning
• It was recognised that visioning and action planning was key to securing greater community engagement, releasing local creativity and generally encouraging greater community-led activity, but that opportunities to fund this kind of activity were limited and / or restrictive for community organisations. The DTAS Town Centre Fund was created to test the appetite for this kind of activity by offering grants of up to £10,000, and designed around light touch administration and significant flexibility.
What we actually did.
DTAS invited Expressions of Interest from development trust members. Applicants were referred to the Scottish Government’s definition of ‘town centre’ and invited to make the case for being involved, or aspiring to be involved, in town centre regeneration.
Despite the tight timescale for submission, 19 Expressions of Interest were received, clearly demonstrating the appetite and need for this kind of resource. A Panel involving representatives from the Scottish Government, Scotland’s Towns Partnership and DTAS, assessed the Expressions of Interest received against pre-determined criteria.
In the event, 11 grant awards were made to the following development trusts, totalling £102,000. This was more than a 50% increase in the anticipated cost of this demonstration project, and reflected the quality and ambition of the Expressions of Interest received.
Peebles Community Trust – £10k to finalise whole town master plan, conduct further community consultation and identify and progress specific community-led activities
Moniaive Inititiave – £8k to develop a vision for main street and an action plan to kick start process of bringing vacant main street buildings back into use.
Nairn Improvement Community Enterprise – £10k to take forward outputs of the recent charrette exercise, with a specific focus on developing deliverable business and community enterprise activities which can be progresses by the community.
South Kintyre Development Trust – £10k to build on recent community consultation and develop a vision and action plan for the High Street, and establish a ‘delivery partnership’ for implementation. Callander Community Development Trust – £5k to conduct a feasibility study to identify a suitable empty building which can be developed as shared workspace for small businesses, as part of a wider town centre regeneration process.
Carluke Development Trust – £9k to conduct an economic impact study on Carluke High Street for community-led project to develop a unique heritage based business (High Mill).
Woodlands CDT (Glasgow) – £10k to engage with community and stakeholders on Woodlands Road to develop a vision and action plan, with particular focus on exploring linkages between social need and vacant property.
Beith Community Trust – £10k to extend current BCT activity and focus on the future of Beith High Street, developing a community vision for the future, along with deliverable actions.
Creetown Initiative – £9.6k to explore alternative uses for vacant buildings in neighbouring Kirkcudbright through consultation, partnership building and the identification of business and community enterprise opportunities.
Clackmannan Development Trust – £10k to update a previous town centre development plan, address the issue of vacant properties and develop a deliverable action plan.
Barra & Vatersay Community Ltd – £10k to fund work to explore and develop alternative uses for empty main street buildings as a means to stimulate wider high street regeneration, and countering the wider spread of recent developments
What difference we actually made
11 applicants have made significant progress in carrying out their stated activities, although for a range of reasons outlined below, some participating development trusts have taken longer than others to fully complete their ‘visioning and action planning’ exercise.
In Peebles the grant was used to create a Town Action Plan (a statement of development priorities) based on background profiling of the town and several rounds of community consultation. The Plan identifies strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and presents a programme of actions and priorities to be promoted by the town, and taken forward by a range of public, private and civil organisations. This has also identified the need for a Town (not merely town centre) Development Manager, and PCT is now seeking funding for this. PCT are also developing a “Vision for Peebles” which aims to ensure an accessible community led strategic approach, in terms of town physical and institutional infrastructures, and service provision, required for sustainable development. Drafts of the document have been prepared and will
be used as the basis of further community consultation and debate. After this, PCT expect to get professionals involved to move towards a final document – a document that it is intended will be endorsed by the Council, and its contents referred to when considering development applications.
Moniaive Initiative undertook online and key stakeholder surveys, the results of which were fed back to the community alongside a community wide questionnaire. The results of those 3 surveys, along with ideas gleaned through other community fora, were used to inform the discussions at a community workshop. On the strength of this work, the Trust secured additional investment (and staff time) to engage in a wider community spaces project, with a strong focus on the feasibility of creating community spaces in the High Street both to supplement the existing, poor service and amenity provision and to regenerate the High Street through increased footfall and activity. Some differences in funding timescales led to an (agreed with DTAS) later final reporting stage for the Initiative. This will happen later in the summer, after the results of both programmes of work have been presented to the community, and used to create a Regeneration Action Plan.
After several delays the action and planning activity in Nairn is now well underway, and expected to be completed with an open day and a full public meeting in July. Local consultant, Marion Francis, is leading this process, which to date has involved extensive community and stakeholder consultation. The work is focussing on how to take forward the recommendations from the charrette-derived Nairn Community Town Centre Action Plan, and is looking likely to lead to the creation of a BID (Highland Council have committed £10k to this) and the identification of the areas in which the community can make the most effective contribution. The process is helpfully separating roles and remits, and will conclude with key actions for several partners, including the community.
South Kintyre Development Trust used the grant to commission a team of consultants to assist the community build a strong network of stakeholders, from many sectors, and work alongside them to develop a vision and action plan for the community led regeneration of Campbeltown Town Centre. The consequent report (which contains over 80 recommendations) details issues, ideas, conversations, priorities and recommendations for future regeneration activity in the town centre. Following a period of confusion, the process has usefully created a clear direction of travel for SKD, in addition to creating a strengthened town centre group. Crucially, Campbeltown Centre now has a list of prioritised projects with clearly identified champions / leads for each.
Local architects WD Harley were appointed by Callander Community Development Trust to complete a feasibility study of potential premises to create a community business hub (shared work shop, office, meeting space). The core of what was a comprehensive study, was an options appraisal which focussed on the 9 vacant business properties. The Report identified a preferred option, with costings, and offered an outline business plan for the venture. The Board of CCDT are currently discussing how this is progressed. An unforeseen outcome was the high profile nature of the work stimulated interest from a range of local organisations, and CCDT are exploring how local sports organisations could work together to take on an empty shop from which to sell sports equipment for their respective activities.
Carluke Development Trust – we understand that work was commissioned and fully carried out but DTAS is awaiting receipt of the evaluation form and Final Report
Woodlands Community Development Trust commissioned Yellow Book to undertake a scoping study of Woodland Road during October 2015. The work surveyed 60 of the 130 retail, food and drink businesses operating from Woodlands Road and produced a ‘Woodlands Agenda’ which is focused around 7 key themes. These are all described in detail in the Final Report. The Study found that Woodlands CDT was a well respected and credible organisation, and as such was well placed to lead on the implementation of the Woodlands Agenda. However, the report also raised questions about the extent to which doing this would draw the organisation from its core purpose, and whether it had the capacity to take this on. Given that community anchor organisations can sometimes have a tendency to try and take too much on, DTAS regard this as a very helpful and positive outcome.
Beith Community Trust used the grant to carry out some very innovative (and hi-tec) community engagement exercises, and undertook joint work with staff and students from the Glasgow School of Architecture. This has involved looking at potential high street regeneration activity through the prism of ‘slow architecture’… working alongside the community to assess how they use the area, the buildings and the infrastucture, and what gaps there are. From here the process then determined what meaningful and sustainable regeneration activity was possible – sustainable in that proposals fit the pattern of use, and usefully fill gaps identified by the community. As a result of this work, the BCT have purchased a property in the high street, which will be used to showcase their own and other work, as well as lead to increased footfall in the town centre.
The Creetown Initiative were able to use the fund to work alongside a range of community and other stakeholders in neighbouring Kirkcudbright, assessing the feasibility and community desire to create a high street ‘offer’ linked to Kirkudbright’s status as Scotland’s Arts Town. As a result of these consultation and engagement processes, there is a renewed level of engagement from the local authority. Dumfries and Galloway Council have now committed to jointly facilitating and supporting the use of some previously empty buildings. A key objective of the intervention was to assess the appetite of the community to become more involved in the regeneration of the town centre, and the result of this is the establishment of the newly created Kirkcudbright Development Trust, who will now take the lead on further community-led regeneration activity.
Clackmannan Development Trust used the grant to provide a focus for raising the profile of their town heritage, identifying works needed to enhance the important historic architecture and streetscape, using this to generate increased public access and footfall to support regeneration, economic development and local job creation. The specific output from the work was the creation of a new community-led masterplan, a direct result of which has been CDT securing £350,000 to support ongoing community led regeneration activity. In addition CDT report that the local authority, Clackmannanshire Council, have appointed a Liaison Officer to support the Trust and the community in this work. CDT report a number of other positive outcomes, but stress that the key one for them has been the way in which the project has ‘restored pride and confidence’ in the community.
Barra & Vatersay Community Ltd matched their £10k grant with another £10k grant and undertook a joint action planning / charrette-type exercise focussing on the town centre. A key focus of this was the number of empty buildings and the current trend of development away from the main street. This work was successfully carried out by Ironside Farrar and ran during March, 2016. B&VCL have just received the 2nd version of the final joint report, which is now very close to being finalised. Once this is received, B&VL will share the report with other partners / stakeholders and jointly discuss implementation of key actions.