Scottish government pledges revised 'town centre first' policy

The Scottish government has pledged that an updated 'town centre first' planning policy will be included in Scotland's revised key planning document as part of a raft of measures to boost town centres.

Town centres: government pledges action to halt decline
Town centres: government pledges action to halt decline

In its response to the independent National Review of Town Centres, published in July, the Scottish government said it would include the revised policy in the final version of Scottish Planning Policy (SPP), due for publication in summer 2014.

A revised town centre first policy was one of the key recommendations of the review. The report recommended that existing 'town-centre first' guidance should be expanded to cover not only retail development but leisure, office, public services and housing uses.

The Scottish government’s response stops short of backing this change but says it will work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) "to develop a town centre first principle".

The response says: "The review group aspire to a principle which drives public sector investment decisions, aligns policies and targets available resources to prioritise town centre sites and encourages vibrancy and diversity.

"The Scottish government broadly agrees with this view. We envisage that this would be a principle in favour of town centres but not a duty. Rather, it would be about making sure that all public bodies continue to take open, measured and transparent decision-making that takes account of the short, medium and longer term impacts on town centres, recognising that proportionate decision making appropriate to the local circumstances is required".

Elsewhere, the response says the Scottish government will:
  • Identify pilots with interested planning authorities who wish to consider collaboration and test approaches which could help simplify planning processes in town centres.
  • Develop a master-planning toolkit, specific to town centres, that includes guidance on specific transport and design details, focusing on the development of quality, accessible public realm and the use of town assets.
  • Develop a fund open to local authorities and community and third sector organisations to help deliver community design charrettes focussed on town centres.
  • Commit £2 million towards a Town Centre Housing Fund that will act as a demonstration project to help bring empty town centre properties back into use for affordable housing.
  • Work with COSLA to strengthen guidance to support local authorities to consider prioritising housing for town centres and to identify potential for mixed use living in town centres.
  • Amplify guidance in the Scottish Public Finance Manual to ensure that bodies acquiring  and disposing of public sector assets and property  consider the degree of priority attached to town centres.
The document also reveals that Scottish government will shortly publish a consultation on planning and telecoms provisions. "The consultation will focus on removing unnecessary barriers to telecoms  infrastructure provision; in particular it will focus on  permitted development (i.e. development where a specific planning application is not required)", the document says.

Malcolm Fraser, the architect who led the Town Centre Review, said: "What I think we have here, is a change of government mindset: a reversal of the throw-away habit that abandons old towns, with their communities, infrastructure and services, for greenfield sites.

"I’m impressed at the government’s determination to promote a new, town-centred culture across its policy-making and decision-taking. Next is for local authorities to embrace the challenges and opportunities this brings, and for our business and communities to be encouraged and enabled."

Town Centre Action Plan - the Scottish Government response can be read here.




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